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There must be a public inquiry into abuse in care homes

By Rosie Kane, Sunday Mail 05/12/04

...I spent a brilliant week in the Highlands on tour with the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament.

The public don't hear much about what happens in our committees but I have to say it is here most of the very important and critical work takes place.

I've been on the Petitions Committee for a few months and have learned so much from so many people.

My experience could only be described as a fast track through the university of life.

The reason for this steep learning curve is that the Petitions Committee does exactly what it says on the label - we listen directly to ordinary members of the public and attempt to guide or support them with their cause.

I have listened to ordinary people with extraordinary knowledge and experience on everything from cardiomyopathy to loss of playing fields, from hospital closure to accidents in the home. The subjects are wide and varied - some are brought by influential lobbyists but the majority are from real people.

We are a busy committee but are keen to represent the whole country - that's why we were in the Highlands.

We set off for Inverness to let the good folk know about the committee.

I travelled from Glasgow by train and I quickly realised just how little I actually get out of the city these days.

The trip to Inverness was stunning and offered a sense of peace and serenity I have not felt in a long time.

The democracy was just as lovely when we got to see it in action on Wednesday.

One of our petitions reached the debating chamber for full debate and it could not have been a more worthy cause.

The petition in question is known as PE 535 and will go down in history for a number of reasons.

First of all, the fact an individual - in this case Chris Daly - could secure a full-scale debate and vote in any parliament is remarkable.

Chris came to the committee in October 2002.

His petition asked the Scottish Parliament to hold a public inquiry into past abuse of children in care. He also asked for an apology.

The committee listened to Chris and asked him and his supporters many questions.

It was not easy for the petitioners but their courage and determination paid off when the committee convener Michael McMahon suggested we debate the issues on the floor of the Parliament.

Then came one of those great moments in the chamber - the First Minister apologised to all victims of institutionalised abuse.

It was only a few words but I met some of the survivors later that evening and they felt they had been listened to and believed.


The background to all of this is without doubt agonising but our Parliament did us all proud.

Given more than 1000 individuals have come forward to report abuse in care - people abandoned by the system in the past - it was right they were finally apologised to publicly and sincerely.

An apology from the organisations and orders concerned should now follow immediately.

Then there should be a full public inquiry into what happened, where it happened and why it happened.

The hills of the Highlands are bonnie - but not as bonnie as the smiles on the faces of those adults when they heard the word "sorry" from Scotland.

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