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A sincere and full apology for children's homes abuse

Victims in tears as McConnell says sorry

By Robbie Dinwoodie, Chief Scottish Political Correspondent, the Herald, 02/12/04

SURVIVORS of abuse in Scotland's children's homes yesterday achieved an unprecedented public apology on behalf of the nation from Jack McConnell.

There were tears in the public gallery among some 50 campaigners on a day of high emotion which was seen as a triumph for the Scottish Parliament's committee system in dramatically advancing the cause of those abused in children's homes and forcing the first minister's intervention.

However, one campaigner said a package of measures announced by the Scottish Executive yesterday, including a review of how institutions were regulated during the years of the allegations, did not go far enough and a full public inquiry was still necessary.

There was also uncertainty over why Mr McConnell chose yesterday to make such a frank apology. One theory was that it was a calculated strategy to put pressure on the Catholic Church in Scotland on the issue.

Mr McConnell told MSPs that the abuse of vulnerable young Scots was "deplorable, unacceptable and inexcusable".

"That is why I offer a sincere and full apology on behalf of the people of Scotland, to those who were subject to abuse and neglect; who did not receive the level of love, care and support that they deserved and who have coped with that burden all of their lives," he said to applause from MSPs on all sides.

The apology came as MSPs debated the first petition discussed by the full parliament, calling for a public inquiry and an apology from the state and religious orders.

David Whelan of In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas) said: "I accept the apology from the first minister and his sincerity, and welcome the measures announced today, but we still need a full inquiry. It must be a judicial inquiry that can look into all issues, including the original police inquiries, because these were at the root of this."

But Chris Daly, whose original submission to the petitions committee led directly to the public apology, insisted that real progress was now being made.

"My initial reaction was that his statement was very heartfelt: and it was long overdue but an apology is a huge leap forward from where we were six months ago. I hope all the institutions involved will do the same and apologise unconditionally."

Peter Peacock, the minister for children and young people, said the executive is appointing an expert to look at what went wrong in the past, how monitoring systems failed, and report back to parliament. Records will also be examined again and personal information removed so that the files can be used without loss of confidentiality.

A working group will be set up, involving abuse survivors, and the law commission will be asked to examine removing the statute of limitations on compensation cases dating back more than 40 years. The executive was picking its way through a legal minefield but he promised: "This is not the end of the process. It is a new chapter."

Mr Daly said he hoped all organisations responsible for abuse in the past, in particular the Catholic Church, would now give full backing to the measures announced by Mr Peacock.

Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP said: "The extent of emotional, physical and sexual abuse suffered by too many in care homes was absolutely horrific. We must acknowledge the pain suffered and say 'never again'."

Annabel Goldie, for the Conservatives, spoke of the "vile and odious betrayals" that had left survivors with "shadows and dark corners for the rest of their days".

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