Council's 'lack of openness and transparency' is putting Edinburgh children at risk says SNP councillor
The safety of children in the Capital risks being compromised by a “lack of openness and transparency” at the city council, a senior councillor has warned.
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Two independent investigations are being carried out within the local authority following a series of scandals involving alleged child protection failures, bullying, intimidation and cover-up.
Susanne Tanner QC has been drafted in to examine the handling of complaints against Sean Bell, a social work manager who was found dead beside Salisbury Crags last year, while he was awaiting trial on historical sex offences.
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She has also been tasked with carrying out a probe into the wider working culture within the council following two other cases involving its Children and Families department.
This follows the shocking persecution of whistleblower John Travers and his wife after he raised concerns about the potential mis-use of public funds, as well as concerns surrounding the handling of the case of sacked Castlebrae High School headteacher Derek Curran.
Mr Curran was sacked following concerns about his handling of child protection issues.
However, concerns have also been raised about a pay-off - and accompanying non-disclosure agreement - believed to have been paid to a former pupil of Mr Curran’s with whom he is claimed to have had a sexual relationship.
Alison Dickie, the city’s vice convener for education and a registered teacher, said she was concerned that despite the multiple and serious allegations the council was still not willing to be open enough about the alleged failings.
The senior SNP councillor – who has been approached by whistleblowers and concerned constituents – has raised a series of questions regarding the cases under investigation with the council and the police.
Writing in today’s Evening News, she said: “I have raised endless concerns and questions with senior staff and with the police too. There have been thorough explanations and reassurances, but the information was at times limited and in conflict with what I had read and heard.
“Accessing reports was difficult, even though they might have ruled out some concerns, and although the message was often “nothing to see here”, those I represented continued to scream that something was really wrong.”
Social work manager Mr Bell was awaiting trial for sexual assault when he was found dead in August a month after he was charged with historical sex crimes.
The investigation into his behaviour is examining 15,000 pages of evidence.
One former council employee has raised concerns about intimidation and bullying of staff by Mr Bell as well as inappropriate use of public funds.
Derek Curran was suspended as headteacher of Castlebrae in 2014 after being accused of failing to immediately report allegations about another teacher’s behaviour in line with child protection procedures. He was eventually dismissed for gross misconduct in September 2015.
Concerns have been raised about an alleged £40,000 payment made to a young woman at the centre of the Castlebrae abuse scandal, and the fact she is believed to have been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement about the deal.
The Evening News understands that a payment was made to a young woman in January 2016, two years after it was alleged Curran had been involved in an inappropriate sexual relationship with her. She is believed to have given birth to Curran’s child after her 18th birthday.
Mr Curran denies failing to adequately asses the seriousness of the original complaint against a fellow teacher or to ensure an investigation was properly conducted. He also denies failing to take appropriate action in line with the council’s child protection guidelines.
In 2018, he won an unfair dismissal claim against the council after a judge found that the authority “failed to follow a fair procedure” and was awarded almost £10,000 in compensation.