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Child abuse inquiry will not be extended to those not in care

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​John Swinney has moved to clarify the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry will only investigate cases of abuse involving people who were within institutions which had legal responsibility for their long-term care in the place of the parent

Scotland’s inquiry into historic child abuse will not investigate incidents that occurred in places such as schools and youth groups unless the child involved was in care at the time.

Deputy first minister John Swinney told MSPs that calls to broaden the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry beyond those who were in residential or foster care would have added years to the inquiry and would be “failing” survivors.

As a result, those abused but who were not ‘in care’ and in the legal care of their parents will not be able to submit evidence.

Swinney said he wanted there to be no confusion over what the inquiry could investigate.

John Swinney

It is clear that there is not unanimity on this issue across survivors - some are strongly in favour of no change, and others are strongly in favour of extensive change

John Swinney

He told MSPs: “To set a remit which would in practice take many more years to conclude, we would be failing to respond to those survivors of in-care abuse who have taken us at our word – in government and in parliament – that we will learn from their experience and, by addressing the systematic failures that existed, ensure it can never happen again.”

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray argued the refusal to widen the remit beyond children in care was a mistake and that many survivors would feel let down.

He added: "Many survivors have pursued a wider remit for the inquiry because they believe it unjust that most survivors of abuse will not be caught by the scope of the inquiry at all."

However, the group Former Boys and Girls Abused in Quarriers Homes (FBGA) said the decision was a positive one.

A spokesperson said: “We were not supportive of widening the remit to such a degree whereby it had a major impact on the timescale.

“We were mindful of the issues that have occurred regarding the English child abuse inquiry.

“The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry term of reference and remit are focused, targeted and achievable in a reasonable timescale, including with this additional change.”

Acknowledging differing opinions Swinney added: "It is clear that there is not unanimity on this issue across survivors - some are strongly in favour of no change, and others are strongly in favour of extensive change.

"It has always been the government's intention that the abuse of children and young people in care is to be taken into account, wherever it occurred, and I want to put that matter beyond any doubt.”

As well as clarifying the remit of the inquiry Swinney announced that legislation would be brought forward to remove the three-year time limit that prevents childhood abuse survivors from seeking civil damages in court.

A spokesperson for children’s charity NSPCC Scotland said it welcomed the plans to explore redress for victims of abuse, no matter when the crimes against them were carried out.

“We know that the impact of child abuse can be devastating and last a lifetime but also that there are many barriers which stop children and adults coming forward when they have been victims,” she added.

"Victims of abuse in Scotland have waited too long to have their voices heard and we urge survivors to make contact with the inquiry to tell their story.

“We hope that the inquiry – when it reports – will succeed in addressing the full extent of any abuse that took place against vulnerable children in care.

“The inquiry also has an important role to play in considering how we can best prevent child abuse in the future. We hope that it will leave a lasting legacy which will help protect future generations.”

The inquiry process, which is expected to last four years, has not been without problems.

In July of this year its chair Susan O’Brien QC quit her role claiming she could not reassure the public that the inquiry would be conducted independently of government – an allegation Swinney denies.

Senior judge, Lady Smith was appointed the inquiry panel’s new chair on August 1.