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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 December, 2004, 22:08 GMT
Steps to help home abuse victims
Child
Campaigners want a public inquiry
Government files are to be opened to the public as ministers move to "shed more light on the national shame" of abuse in Scottish children's homes.

The education minister said all the organisations he had asked to open up their files had responded positively.

Peter Peacock told MSPs that the Scottish Executive would fund improved counselling services for victims.

An expert will also be appointed to analyse the systems in place at the time and the way they were monitored.

Mr Peacock said the government files would be made available in January.

Any information which would reveal sensitive personal details will first be removed from the documents.

'Positive response'

He has urged a number of bodies to open up their files, including the Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, the Quarriers charity, Barnardo's, local authorities and the Care Commission.

Mr Peacock said he had received "a very positive response" to that request.

The Holyrood debate was prompted by a petition from Christopher Daly, who claims he was regularly beaten by nuns at Nazareth House in Aberdeen in the 1970s.

He called for the executive offer a public apology and pay compensation to victims.

Peter Peacock
We have for the first time comprehensive plans to address what the survivors have been asking of us
Peter Peacock
Education Minister
On Wednesday, First Minister Jack McConnell made a "sincere and full" apology on behalf of the people of Scotland.

Speaking during the debate which followed, Mr Peacock said: "One of the questions which keeps coming through the discussions with survivors is their need to understand more fully why the abuse they experienced was, as they would put it, allowed to happen.

"Why was no-one able to stop what was happening to them?

"That's an entirely reasonable question - not just for survivors but for wider society, to understand and help us explore any lessons in the past for what we do in the present."

Mr Peacock said it was vital that the steps being taken by the executive did not interfere with court proceedings.

Policy questions

"However, I can say to parliament that it is my intention to appoint someone with experience in this field to independently analyse what were the regulatory requirements of the time; what were the systems in place to monitor the operation of those requirements; and, in general terms, how that monitoring was carried out in practice," he said.

Mr Peacock promised to consider any conclusions reached and look at any policy questions which emerge.

"I believe that in what I have set out - together with what the first minister has said on behalf of the people of Scotland - we have for the first time comprehensive plans to address what the survivors have been asking of us - both the executive and parliament," he added.

I have concerns about whether public evidence sessions would really be the best way of ensuring that all potential witnesses would be willing to give evidence
Patrick Harvie
Green MSP
"I believe that by following these proposals through we will be able to shed more light on the national shame that in-care abuse represents, and I believe it will immeasurably improve services available to survivors."

The Scottish National Party's spokeswoman for children and young people, Fiona Hyslop, said the minister would receive the parliament's full support if he pursued the issues with vigour.

But she said that calls for a public inquiry had the backing of MSPs from across the political spectrum.

"An important step in our reborn democracy would be as a nation to be prepared to open the past up to scrutiny, to face the consequences, to tell the stories and by telling the stories help the survivors find the peace and justice so desperately needed," she said.

Those who spoke in favour of such a step included Scottish Socialist Party MSP Rosie Kane and independent MSP Campbell Martin.

Potential witnesses

However, Green MSP Patrick Harvie said it was right not to hold a public inquiry as they can create "false hope".

"I also have concerns about whether public evidence sessions would really be the best way of ensuring that all potential witnesses would be willing to give evidence," he said.

Tory spokesman Lord James Douglas-Hamilton said there should be an inquiry - but that it should not be carried out in public.

He warned that doing so could prejudice legal proceedings and said it would not be in victims' interests to have their past "raked over in public and revisited in a brutal way".



SEE ALSO:
McConnell 'sorry' for homes abuse
01 Dec 04 |  Scotland
MSPs insist on child abuse debate
02 Nov 04 |  Scotland
Minister ruling out abuse inquiry
29 Sep 04 |  Scotland


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