Former Edinburgh councillor Alison Dickie and whistleblower Christine Scott petition MSPs over child abuse
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Calls for new measures on child abuse and children’s rights are due to be considered by MSPs this week.
Former Edinburgh SNP councillor Alison Dickie, together with ex-Labour councillor Bill Cook, whistleblower Christine Scott and former teacher Neil McLennan have lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament, pressing for a public investigation into the alleged mishandling of unresolved child abuse and child protection concerns; a national whistleblowing officer for education and children's services; and closure of “serious gaps” in the current Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.
Their demands come after the Tanner report in 2021 into Edinburgh city council’s failings over the case of former social worker Sean Bell, who was facing charges of historic sexual assault, domestic abuse and rape when he was found dead at the foot of Salisbury Crags. The report found that senior officials were told of the allegations but failed to act. But a whistleblowers’ group, including Christine Scott, branded the report a whitewash, claiming it had failed to hold the senior managers to account. The following year, a damning internal council report found "illegality, maladministration and injustice" in Edinburgh's secure accommodation.
The parliament’s public petitions committee first considered the petition in February and asked a number of organisations for their views. Their responses will now be considered by the committee on Wednesday, October 4, before it decides whether to take any further action on the issue.
The petitioners’ calls got some support from the Children and Young People’s Commissioner, who told the committee: “The child protection system is directed primarily towards the risk of neglect or abuse from parents, or within a family setting. As a result, the system often fails to respond effectively to child protection concerns that arise as a result of action or inaction by professionals and/or organisations. We have expressed a view that lessons have not been fully learned from previous and ongoing inquiries which relate to childhood abuse, neglect, and safeguarding.”
He noted that the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) had taken up the role of Independent National Whistleblowing Officer for NHS services. And he said: “A National Independent Whistleblowing Officer for education and children’s services in Scotland would merit further exploration.”
But other organisations, like the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) and the EIS teachers’ union said they did not believe further inquiries or whistleblowing appointments were needed.
In a joint statement, the petitioners said: “It is our belief that a greater level of scrutiny and action is required by elected members on matters relating to child protection and child abuse in Scotland – past and present.”
And they cited the findings of the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry that council officials had misinformed elected members. “Petitioners are concerned this may be representative of the wider institutional culture within the Council with implications with respect to the handling of safeguarding concerns,” they added.
And they said the scope of the current Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry was limited to historical abuse of children in care settings. “There has been much media coverage on wider and related child protection issues. This includes developments with the brave Edinburgh Academy and Fornethy House survivors, highlighting gaps in the current Child Abuse Inquiry and the fact that survivor voices need to be better heard.
“We therefore continue to stress: How can there be justice for any survivors or certainty about current child protection – the people and systems in place – if unresolved allegations about past and present child abuse cover-ups are not independently and thoroughly investigated?”