Scotland

Susan O'Brien QC to lead public inquiry into historical child abuse

Susan O'Brien Image copyright Scottish Government
Image caption Susan O'Brien chaired the inquiry into the death of baby Caleb Ness

One of Scotland's leading QCs will chair a statutory public inquiry into historical abuse of children in care.

Susan O'Brien's remit will include allegations of abuse in institutions, foster care, long-term hospital care and boarding schools.

Education Secretary Angel Constance said the inquiry would have powers to force witnesses to give evidence.

She had previously said abusers would "face the full force of the law".

The minister also confirmed the Scottish government intends to lift the three-year time bar on civil actions.

This will include compensation claims for damages in cases of historical abuse that took place after 1964.

New funding of £14.5m for support services was also announced to the Scottish Parliament, in a move designed to ensure survivors have access to the services they need now.

Standard of care

The education secretary said: "For the purposes of the inquiry the term 'in care' will carry a broader interpretation beyond those formally placed in care by the state.

"It will include allegations of abuse affecting boarded out children, child migrant schemes and school hostels and health care establishments providing long term care for children.

"Furthermore, I have also decided that independent boarding schools must be included.

"While parents were responsible for the residential placement of children in these institutions, I am of the view the state also had a responsibility to ensure a standard of care."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The inquiry will look at allegations of abuse in institutions, foster care, long-term hospital care and boarding schools

Ms O'Brien previously chaired a panel which investigated the death of 11-week-old baby Caleb Ness in Edinburgh.

It produced a 2003 report resulting in the reorganisation of Edinburgh's social work department.

The QC has been an employment judge for 15 years and is currently a governor of Heriot-Watt University.

Ms O'Brien said: "I appreciate that no one can provide full justice for any victim of abuse in childhood, but the Scottish government is anxious to enable victims to tell us what happened to them and the impact it had on their lives.

"The inquiry panel will try to identify any lessons from past failures which will help to keep our children safe in the future."

The original announcement of the inquiry being set up last December came 10 years after former First Minister Jack McConnell offered an apology to victims of abuse in children's homes, but at the time stopped short of agreeing to a full public inquiry.

'Great progress'

Scottish Labour's education and lifelong learning spokesman Iain Gray said the announcement was "great progress indeed, but it has taken a long time".

He added: "Central to the survivors' confidence is the chair of the inquiry, as we have seen all too clearly in England. So we must ensure urgently that Susan O'Brien enjoys the confidence of survivors.

"Importantly, it must be clear that survivors will receive the support - psychological, legal and financial - that they need to ensure justice is served."

Alison Todd, chief executive of the charity Children 1st, said: "This is about listening to people who were failed as children, acknowledging what happened to them and learning from the past to make things better for children in the future."

Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, of Police Scotland, said: "Our investigations will always be victim-focused and I would again encourage anyone who may have been a victim, regardless of when that was, to come forward safe in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously and will always be dealt with sensitively."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites