Edinburgh opposition leaders tell of frustration that top officials criticised over Sean Bell sex abuse allegations have left the council without being held to account

Opposition leaders at the City Chambers say it is “frustrating” that two senior officials criticised by an inquiry for “dereliction of duty” have left council without being held to account.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 7:29 am

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Alistair Gaw, former executive director of communities and families, and Andy Jeffries, a senior manager in the children and families department, were both found to have failed to take appropriate action over allegations of serious sexual assault against Sean Bell, a senior social work manager found dead at the foot of Salisbury Crags in August 2020 while awaiting trial on charges of historic sexual assault.

An independent inquiry led by top QC Susanne Tanner into the council’s handling of numerous allegations against Mr Bell said that when the two men learned of this particular claim an investigation should have been launched and the matter should have been reported to the police.

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Alistair Gaw

Mr Jeffries was suspended on a “precautionary basis” in October 2020 as the council began looking into how complaints made about Mr Bell were dealt with and an internal disciplinary process was begun against him.

But he resigned from his job in September 2021 after a 32-year career with the council. Council sources claimed his departure came after he was shown the findings of Ms Tanner’s report.

Mr Gaw resigned from his post for “personal reasons” in October 2020 after nine years with the council and received fulsome tributes from council leader Adam McVey and depute leader Cammy Day.

But following Ms Tanner’s findings, Tory group leader Iain Whyte said the report was very clear that both Mr Gaw and Mr Jeffries had failed in their duty.

He said: “Some of the rest of our staff and members of the public will be very frustrated at what appears to be a situation where people responsible for a man remaining in our employment despite allegations of serious criminal issues have left with no consequences.”

He acknowledged the council may have had limited legal options to do anything.

But he continued: “For me it seems strange that after months of suspension Mr Jeffries suddenly resigned and that was accepted and the disciplinary process was brought to an end, because my understanding is the disciplinary process allows that process to continue after a resignation to a conclusion.

“You can also attempt to hold someone to a notice period, although their co-operation with that may be limited.

“I think there are serious questions to be asked about that.

“The council has to show that all options for holding people to account were taken but it may be it was impossible to take matters forward and the council has to explain why that was the case.”

Lib Dem leader Robert Aldridge also voiced frustration at the situation.

He said: “We all struggle with people who leave without being held to account. Everybody deserves the chance to be able to defend themselves but I think people feel very frustrated when there is no chance deal with it in that way.

"It's very frustrating it's not possible for us to speak and hear from these people and hear their side of it and, if things are as the report says, then for action to be taken.”

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