Council leader tells of “profound sense of regret and apology” over Linda McCall case

Andrew Webster QCAndrew Webster QC
Andrew Webster QC
An urgent action plan is being drawn up to address the criticisms outlined in a damning independent inquiry report into Scottish Borders Council’s handling of allegations of assaults on vulnerable pupils, it emerged today, Friday, February 25.

At a special meeting of the local authority, members agreed to adopt all 10 recommendations for improvement from Andrew Webster QC, who carried out an inquiry into an internal council probe into handling of abuse raised against former council employee Linda McCall.

An initial investigation cleared McCall of wrongdoing, but she was later convicted of assaulting five pupils between five and seven years of age over a 14-month period in 2016/17 at Tweeddale Support Unit in Peebles.

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Mr Webster was highly critical of the failure to report the concerns raised to the Child Protection Unit for more than a year, describing it as a “reprehensible period of time”.

His recommendation set out 10 recommendations for action, including a review of the council’s child protection training for staff and the adoption of improved communication procedures.

But during questions at today’s meeting Mr Webster said he did not believe – as some parents do – that there was a ‘cover-up’ within the local authority.

Netta Meadows, the council’s chief executive, said all the recommendations needed to be acted upon.

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Additionally, an action plan is now being drawn up, the first draft of which will be presented to full council next month.

Ms Meadows said: “It is a matter of irrefutable fact that the council’s referral of matters to the Child Protection Unit occurred more than a year after we first became aware of the relevant circumstances and this is obviously totally unacceptable.

“It is my position that council should accept all 10 recommendations in the inquiry report and secondly I would ask you to note my intention to create an outline action plan for implementing those recommendations across Scottish Borders Council.

“I appreciate given the seriousness of this report that expediency is absolutely required regarding the development plan for improvement.

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“That said, it is equally important that careful planning takes place in order to fully embed the changes needed.”

Mr Webster, speaking at today’s meeting, said: “What the inquiry identified as a matter of fact is that in October 2017 a number of staff members at the place where Linda McCall was working identified conduct which involved, among other things, the grabbing, dragging, pushing, pulling of children, the holding of a child’s chin while asking the child to be quiet and it was identified that these events sometimes happened in a rough manner.

“These were matters of conduct, if true, which crossed the threshold to justify reporting matters to the Child Protection Unit.”

Council leader Councillor Mark Rowley said: “The timeline fills me with horror. The sense of regret and apology I’ve got as leader of the council for what these children went through is profound.

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“I am extremely sorry that this council failed on multiple occasions to enact its own processes which were clearly in place.

“I am absolutely resolute that this council meeting today will leave the chief executive with a very robust mandate to go away and plan, within days, to get the process where we failed sorted.”

Councillor Carol Hamilton, the council’s executive member for Children and Young People, asked Mr Webster directly if he thought there had been a cover -up.

The QC responded: “I wasn’t asked to consider whether there was a cover-up.

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"I was asked to investigate questions of fact and to make recommendations as to how matters occurred.

“I am conscious that there were references in the information provided to me of concerns that there was a cover-up, as it was described, and in particular in relation to a close family member of Linda McCall.

"I find no direct evidence of any attempt on behalf of the family member to in any way influence the investigation into the concerns that arose.”