Parents call for justice and transparency from council over abuse claims

Andrew Webster QC.Andrew Webster QC.
Andrew Webster QC.
Parents are demanding answers and transparency from Scottish Borders Council after further allegations of child abuse emerged in the wake of a damning independent inquiry.

Council employee Linda McCall, 61, subjected five pupils with learning difficulties aged between five and seven to numerous instances of physical and emotional abuse between 2016 and 2017.

Scottish Borders Council initially cleared McCall of wrongdoing and did not flag up concerns with its child protection unit until late in 2018.

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In an independent report, made public last month, Andrew Webster QC described that delay as “reprehensible”.

He also criticised the council’s failure to recognise the significance of the allegations and highlighted deficiencies in the way it handled child protection concerns.

The findings have led SBC to draw up an urgent action plan to address the criticisms in the damning report.

Mr Webster’s report was initially delayed after ‘further lines of inquiry’ emerged.

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Those relate to complaints made by parents against other staff, some still working at the primary school where McCall was formerly employed.

Today one of the parents who raised serious concerns urged SBC to give an assurance that action is being taken to protect children from potential abuse amid her fears of a “whitewash”.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for SBC pledged that any parent that has raised such concerns will be listened to and “where appropriate, have these addressed under appropriate process”.

The parent said: “Regarding the inquiry into SBC’s handling of complaints since the conviction of Linda McCall, there is a much bigger story here, and a need for transparency from SBC.

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“Whilst the conviction of the SBC employee prompted the investigation by QC Andrew Webster, it also resulted in parents, some from the primary school where McCall was employed, asking for their formal complaints against members of staff to be re-investigated.

“The ‘further lines of inquiry’ SBC referred to in various news reports are these parents.

“Upon hearing the complaints verbally and looking into various historical information, the Director of Education, Ms Munro, was very insistent that I should be interviewed by Mr Webster as part of his inquiry. I was interviewed specifically regarding the verbal and physical abuse that my autistic child endured by an additional needs assistant still employed by SBC.

“In Mr Webster’s damning report of SBC’s investigation he states: ‘I am conscious that one of the consequences of this report may be that consideration will be given to instituting disciplinary investigations and proceedings against SBC employees. I can only hope that if that does occur, the observations I make here inform the council’s approach.

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“It does beg the question – what is SBC doing with those complaints? It gravely concerns me that it will result in a whitewash by the local authority. We want justice for our children and not the usual platitudes so often heard nowadays about lessons being learnt.

“I don’t want an apology and a review of procedures. I want an assurance that action will be taken so that other pupils aren’t subjected to this treatment from an employee still in situ despite parents’ complaints.”

A spokesperson for Scottish Borders Council said: “During the course of Andrew Webster QC’s independent inquiry into the council’s handling of school assault allegations, connected to the conduct of a specific employee, a number of individuals came forward who were not directly involved but who offered other information

“Mr Webster interviewed these people and it was for him to determine whether their evidence was pertinent to the terms of reference under which he was appointed to conduct the independent inquiry.

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“Any parents who have raised concerns directly to SBC will be listened to and, where appropriate, have these addressed under an appropriate process.

“It is not appropriate for the council to comment on matters relating to disciplinary proceedings.”