John Swinney meets with child abuse survivors as fears grow about inquiry

Alice Muir

Some child abuse campaign groups say they’ve lost confidence in the government's inquiry

JOHN SWINNEY called a meeting with survivors of child abuse on Thursday as fears grow about the independence of the inquiry.

A meeting between Swinney and the survivors of child abuse took place at Saint Andrew’s House to discuss the progress of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. The meeting was called after inquiry chairwoman Susan O’Brien QC resigned from her post on the basis that she did not feel that the inquiry could be conducted independently of government interference.

Survivors of child abuse have said that they are losing confidence in the inquiry and its ability to operate independently.

A campaigner from White Flowers Alba organisation, Andrew Lavery, said: “I have no faith in this process anymore. We face no prospect of justice in Scotland.”

But Swinney rejected claims of government interference in the inquiry, and said he was determined to build on the good work of it.

“I have no faith in this process anymore. We face no prospect of justice in Scotland.” Andrew Lavery

Another abuse survivor, Dave Whelan, told BBC Scotland after the meeting that delays in the inquiry were "upsetting". "I am emotional about it because we've been doing this for too long," he told BBC Scotland.

"I represent a group of former Quarriers residents where eight people have been convicted. My own abuser was convicted and we're still seeking justice. Many, many more people where actually abused in these care homes and in these institutions.

 "[The inquiry must] seek to repair and redress the harm of the past instead of ignoring thousands of people who were abused, which is completely wrong."

Swinney told the BBC he wanted to make sure the inquiry was "entirely independent" from government.

He said: "As we work to overcome the obstacles that we have experienced in the last couple of weeks, there is good work that is being undertaken by the inquiry. I'm determined to build on that, to reflect on the views of survivors and to make sure that their thinking and their approach is built in to how we take forward the inquiry."

Two of the original inquiry panel members, psychology professor Michael Lamb and Susan O’Brien QC, have stepped down, both stating in their resignation letters that they cannot be confident that enquiry can be conducted without government interference.

Read more – Explainer: What is the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and why was it set up?

Susan O’brien wrote in her resignation letter: “Scottish Government officials have sought to micro-manage and control the inquiry, and I have resisted this.”

Professor Lamb said the inquiry was "doomed" by government interference. 

Swinney called yesterday’s meeting to explain to survivors why he took the decision to investigate controversial comments made by O’Brien, which ultimately led to her resignation.

A child abuse expert had complained that Ms O'Brien had made comments during an inquiry staff training session in February, including that one survivor had described being abused as the "best thing that had ever happened" to them.

Dr Claire Fyvie complained that even if this comment was meant to "lighten the mood", it was "wholly inappropriate" and demonstrated a "shocking level of misjudgement".

However, O'Brien insisted that she had "done nothing wrong", saying she would "never underestimate the gravity of child abuse" and that she had "accurately reported without endorsing, what a survivor had said about their attitude to their own abuse".

She said she would resign because she had "no confidence" that the government would not simply find another reason to sack her.

Swinney said he "absolutely rejects any charges of interference" with the independence of the inquiry.

The child abuse survivors are waiting for the appointment of a new chair in order to proceed with the inquiry.

Picture courtesy of Flickr

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