Senior judge named as new head of Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry

A senior judge has been appointed to lead the independent public inquiry into the abuse of children in care, weeks after its previous chair quit following claims she had made comments that were ”offensive” to survivors.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced the Right Honourable Lady Smith will fill the vacancy at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, praising her “leadership, independence and sensitivity”.

The appointment comes almost a month after her predecessor Susan O’Brien QC resigned, with formal proceedings to remove her from the high-profile role and Mr Swinney having said her comments “raised serious concerns”.

In her resignation letter, Ms O’Brien said she could “not reassure the public that this inquiry will be conducted independently of government”.

Another panel member – Professor Michael Lamb – had already stepped down, saying the review is ”doomed” due to interference by ministers.

Mr Swinney stressed, however, the new inquiry chair – whose appointment was announced in a letter to Holyrood’s Education Committee – would carry out her role “without fear or favour”.

He said Lady Smith, who was appointed as a judge in 2001, would bring “a wealth of knowledge and experience to the leadership of the inquiry from her significant service both as a QC and as a judge”.

He added: “Her leadership, independence and sensitivity will be key to the inquiry’s progress.

“It is in the nature of Lady Smith’s background as an experienced judge that the inquiry will be taken forward without fear or favour to identify how individuals and institutions failed many of Scotland’s most vulnerable children.”

The Deputy First Minister also re iterated his willingness to consider the scope of the inquiry following calls from some abuse survivors for its remit to be extended.

Ministers set up the inquiry to examine allegations of abuse from youngsters placed in children’s homes and in foster care, as well as those cared for by faith-based organisations or in long-term hospital care and boarding schools.

Mr Swinney said: ” This is one of Scotland’s widest-ranging public inquiries ever, examining not only the abuse of children formally placed ‘in care’ in institutions, but also allegations of abuse in foster care, in long-term hospital care and in boarding schools.

“At the request of a number of survivors, I have agreed to consider the scope of the terms of reference.

“In the coming weeks I will give this matter further thought, including discussion with Lady Smith, and also taking account of last year’s consultation responses.”

Lady Smith, who will take on the role from August 1, stressed that “protection of the innocence and wellbeing of children is of fundamental importance to a healthy society”.

She said: ” Sadly, many children placed in residential care in this country have, over a period stretching back years, not been afforded the protection they deserved.

“Their voices now require to be heard and questions of when, where, how and why it happened require to be fully addressed.

“Consideration also needs to be given to determining whether further changes in current practice, policy or legislation are required to ensure children in care in Scotland are protected from such abuse.”

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