Inquiry must consider Edinburgh Council’s actions over payout to former school pupil who had teacher's baby – John McLellan
The revelation that Edinburgh Council made a payment to a woman who gave birth to a child she conceived with former Castlebrae High School head teacher Derek Curran while she was a pupil at the school, raises a host of extremely serious questions for the authority to answer.
The woman is understood to have received around £40,000 in January 2016, which was two years after allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship were revealed. If so, it is a staggeringly low sum given she was a teenager with the responsibility for bringing up a child, so how was this figure reached and by whom?
The girl was also apparently required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, standard practice when people are paid off by organisations who want rid of them, but less so if the recipient is not an employee and is being compensated for a very obvious wrong. There is also a premium to pay for silence so, if accurate, £40,000 seems even more paltry.
Given the woman was a school pupil and the council had a duty of care towards her, what did the council do to protect her welfare? Did it, for example, ensure she had proper legal representation in any negotiations?
As relatively recent events involving current senior officials, they should be matters for the inquiry now being conducted by Susanne Tanner QC into Edinburgh Council’s organisational culture, as well as the events surrounding the criminal charges against senior social worker Sean Bell who died a fortnight before he was due to stand trial.
Ms Tanner is expected to examine the council’s recent court defeat in its attempt to prevent another education department employee and whistle-blower, John Travers, accessing a 2016 report into a campaign of intimidation orchestrated by senior officials against him and his wife.
There are so many unanswered questions in that case too for Ms Tanner, particularly why, if Mr Travers had no intention of making the report public, did the council not want him to see what had been uncovered?
But this week the Evening News revealed that two whistle-blowers have expressed concerns that the Tanner inquiry will be a whitewash because key written evidence they have offered to make available has not been sought.
There are no question marks over the integrity of Ms Tanner, but with a budget of just £600,000 the same can’t be said for the resources at her disposal.
Money from reserves is available should costs over-run, but what about her remit and powers? The inquiry has expanded beyond what was originally envisaged, she can’t compel witnesses, the secretariat is a council supplier, and leaks suggest a lack of faith in the process.
The point of the inquiry should be to give the public and council employees confidence that the authority is being properly run, so the next question for Ms Tanner is whether she is confident she has been given the tools for the job they expect?
John McLellan is a Scottish Conservative councillor for Craigentinny and Duddingston