Mishandling of child abuse scandals shows need for national whistleblowing service – John McLellan

The naming of a retired Scottish teacher accused of sexually assaulting pupils at Fettes College and Edinburgh Academy in the 70s has once again highlighted the helplessness victims feel when their attacker holds a position of power.

In the Commons, SNP MP Ian Blackford named a former teacher accused of sexually assaulting pupils at Fettes College and Edinburgh Academy in the 1970s (Picture: House of Commons/PA)
In the Commons, SNP MP Ian Blackford named a former teacher accused of sexually assaulting pupils at Fettes College and Edinburgh Academy in the 1970s (Picture: House of Commons/PA)

The 82-year-old is said to have previously confessed to being attracted to young boys and faces complaints here and in South Africa where he lives, but despite multiple allegations at the time, his employers’ reputations were prioritised over justice, and he was simply moved on.

Although identified by Ian Blackford MP in the House of Commons this week, he is still shielded by an order issued as part of the Child Abuse Inquiry to ban identification of people accused, but not convicted.

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The times, places and circumstances of the allegations against him are different, but his victims’ stories will feel familiar to many of those victims who came forward as part of the various whistleblowing inquiries in Edinburgh, where no one has been brought to justice for the physical and psychological abuses they suffered at the hands of immoral officials. Victims were not believed, and when they were, too often the result was not police involvement, but a reshuffling of rotas until the victims or perpetrators were out the system.

Only social work manager Sean Bell faced charges, thanks to one brave manager, but the investigation closed when he fell to his death before he was due in court. Few with knowledge of what went on were satisfied the investigation commissioned by Edinburgh Council into his actions exposed the full story. Nor is any further action likely despite several allegations beyond Sean Bell and his circle.

The Child Abuse Inquiry will not cover all these issues and next month a petition on behalf of whistleblowers will be considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Citizen, Participation and Public Petitions Committee, which seeks a public inquiry into the mishandling of cases and the establishment of a national whistleblowing officer for children’s services.

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The case for a national whistleblowing service which is itself open to scrutiny should be beyond question, because the Edinburgh inquiries exposed the extent to which even improved systems are reliant on private organisations accountable only to those who commission them. There is no way of knowing whether private firms employing retired police officers and security personnel are providing the robust services their paymasters assure the public they have introduced, and when internal investigations are held there is no guarantee of absolute independence and rigour.

It’s taken decades for the complaints against “Edgar” to become public and it’s too easy to believe that abuses in schools and care homes are all historic and predators can no longer act with impunity as was once the case. But that would be naïve.

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If the inquiries Edinburgh Council commissioned into itself had been effective, the petition would never have been necessary, but they were not designed to satisfy whistleblowers and amounted to little more than expensive management consultancy, with an air of legal gravitas to provide credibility.

The result is too many people who came forward to lift the lid on what was going on feel let down, their bravery in revisiting their experiences rewarded by being at best patronised or at worst disbelieved, with compensation promises rigged against them. That in itself is worth an inquiry.