Emotive TV documentary on Barnardo’s sparked allegations of abuse, inquiry told

An “emotive and provocative” television documentary about the work of a charity led to alleged abuse victims coming forward and sparked thousands of requests for access to records, an inquiry has been told.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) heard the BBC documentary from the mid-1990s on the work of Barnardo’s triggered 5,500 requests for the paperwork over a couple of years.

It prompted a quick learning process within the organisation and took several years for all the inquiries to be worked through, the probe was told.

It was also claimed that some of the former Barnardo’s residents involved in the documentary were “traumatised” by the making of the programme.

The SCAI in Edinburgh has been conducting a case study since October examining the care given to youngsters living in non-religious and voluntary residential institutions, namely Aberlour, Quarriers and Barnardo’s.

Giving evidence to the inquiry on Thursday was Kate Roach, a service manager with Barnardo’s working in the field of after care.

James Peoples QC, a senior counsel to the inquiry, told the hearing the documentary on the past and then-present work of Barnardo’s was aired in July 1995.

Reading from a statement submitted by the organisation, he said: “By December, Barnardo’s had received 4,000 inquiries for access to records from former residents. When the documentaries were repeated in 1997, a further 1,500 inquiries were received.”

Ms Roach told how a producer with the broadcaster had gone to view Barnardo’s photograph archive when they were looking to make a programme about Diana, Princess of Wales.

On becoming “captivated” by the old pictures, they decided to make a documentary about the history of Barnardo’s.

She told how, during a “difficult process”, the BBC advertised for people who had lived with Barnardo’s to take part in the filming and around 800 people put their names forward.

However, only a “small handful” were taken on, including a group from a home in England where “quite a lot hadn’t been right for a while”.

Ms Roach said the charity’s then head of after care had been present at some of the filming and was “eventually able to forge relationships with these people who had been totally traumatised by the making of the programme”.

She said: “We did our best to try and support those individuals.”

She described the first two episodes of the documentary as “extremely emotive and provocative” and said a support system was put in place, including publication of a telephone number.

The witness said: “At the end of the programme, as soon as the phone number was put up, all the lights lit up for days afterwards with inquiries coming in.

“Because of the emotive nature, many of those inquiries were people who had experienced abuse.

“We had to learn very quickly how to respond to those people.

“We knew there would be people who would respond. I don’t think we knew quite how many would respond.

“The 4,000 inquiries with us weren’t all people who had experienced abuse – far from it. We took the decision to prioritise those who made allegations of abuse.

“It took us several years to work through all of those inquiries.”

David Beard, Barnardo’s head of corporate safeguarding, later talked through the systems in place to address any allegations of abuse against current or former employees.

He told how the organisation would still conduct its own internal review of processes, regardless of what police or other agencies decide to do.

A key principle is to listen to allegations of historical abuse, take them seriously and take action, the inquiry was told.

Mr Beard said: “Children and young people who have been in the care of Barnardo’s, if they have suffered abuse then we have an organisational responsibility to support them and investigate it.

“If they have had a negative experience in our care then that’s something we have a responsibility to own, to investigate, to apologise for if it’s proven.”

The inquiry, before Lady Smith, continues on Friday.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Nick Mailer / PA Wire.