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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Abuse reports find care failures
The report
There have been four previous reports into the case
Reports into how abuse cases were handled in the Borders have found "failures at every level".

Ministers have promised immediate and wide-ranging action following the "damning indictment" of care services which dealt with abuse of four victims.

Peter Peacock, the minister for social work, said there had been a catalogue of failures in all four cases.

"In all my time in public life I have never come across a more harrowing and appalling case than this," he said.

Mr Peacock added: "Over 30 years, a catalogue of failures within social work and health services in the Borders allowed three people to be seriously sexually abused and another to be seriously physically neglected.

"Much of the abuse, neglect and exploitation could have been avoided if it had not been for these failures.

'Decisive action'

"Time and time again, concerns were raised with those who should have been protecting them.

"Each one should have triggered decisive action - but none did."

The two separate reports were carried out by the Social Work Services Inspectorate (SWSI) and the Mental Welfare Commission (MWC).

They were triggered by the case of an unnamed woman with learning disabilities in Newtown St Boswells who was abused by three men while she was a client of social workers in Scottish Borders Council.

We will take whatever actions are necessary to ensure, as far as is humanly possible, that Scotland's vulnerable citizens are not let down in this way again
Peter Peacock

The men, one of whom was a carer, were convicted in August 2002 of raping and torturing the woman.

It later emerged that social workers had been warned that the woman was at risk.

One of the previous inquiries into the case found that the local authority had failed to protect the woman, but another said no staff member should be disciplined.

Officials said that, while the woman victim in that case had been the focus of media attention, other individuals receiving similar social work services from the council and the health board also suffered severe neglect and abuse.

The two reports made a total of 42 recommendations for the council, the health service in the Borders, police and the Scottish Executive to follow up.

Action to be taken includes:

  • a check to see if any staff are unfit to be registered as social workers;

  • a new inspection arrangements and joint inspection regime for learning disability services;

  • a fundamental look at social work across Scotland to ensure it meets the country's needs in the 21st century.

Mr Peacock told the Scottish Parliament: "We accept all the recommendations and will take all the necessary actions to ensure they are acted upon."

The minister said he had asked Scottish Borders Council to submit plans to address all the issues raised in the SWSI report.

The SWSI would carry out a follow up inspection to ensure this was being fully implemented.

Peter Peacock
Peter Peacock said there had been a string of failures
The findings of the report are to be drawn to the attention of every Scottish council, health board and chief constable.

Mr Peacock also pledged a revamp of the Social Work Service Inspectorate, which will concentrate purely on inspection activity.

One of the first tasks for the revamped SWSI will be to develop with other organisations a joint inspection of learning disability by the end of this year, he said.

Promising a rethink of the entire social work profession he said: "This marks a watershed in the way we need to think about social work.

"We will take whatever actions are necessary to ensure, as far as is humanly possible, that Scotland's vulnerable citizens are not let down in this way again."

Jamie Malcolm, who chaired the MWC investigation, said ┐We found some examples of appropriate practice by the health staff who were involved.

"However there were, at times, failures in sharing information, failure in the coordination of health and social work services and a failure to recognise the vulnerability of, and risks faced by, those people at the centre of our investigation.

"Ultimately this led to a lack of effective action to protect those people.┐

The woman whose case sparked the inquiry issued a statement through her solicitor, in which she said: "I understand that it was necessary for the minister to make a statement in Parliament today.

'Appalling failure'

"I do not want to comment on the statement itself at this time.

"I have worked very hard to put these experiences behind me. I have a new life now and can start again. All I wish is to be left in peace to get on with my new life."

David Parker, leader of Scottish Borders Council, told BBC Radio Scotland that he fully accepted the criticisms and he was committed to implementing the recommendations made within it.

He said: "I've been involved with this case now for the last two years and I'm not at all surprised, having read the reports myself that we have commissioned.

"There is no question that this has been an appalling failure and we must learn lessons from it.

"Over the last two years, we have been developing processes and procedures, putting in place very strong training and putting in place mechanisms to ensure that this never happens again."

Care shake-up plans win backing
06 May 04  |  Scotland
Borders social work boss resigns
29 Oct 03  |  Scotland
Revised abuse plan adopted
23 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Action plan over abuse case
25 Jun 03  |  Scotland
Council accused over abuse case
04 Jun 03  |  Scotland
Gang jailed for 'horrific' torture
29 Aug 02  |  Scotland

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