The full extent of the abuse which took place at Kerelaw Residential school in Ayrshire is becoming clearer as Glasgow City Council today publishes a report of it's investigation into what went on at the school. ( see also the report of the later independent enquiry published in 2009 )
The report reveals that forty care workers sexually or physically abused children in the residential school in Ayrshire. This may yet prove to be one of Britain's biggest abuse scandals.
The three-year investigation found "a significant core of staff" at the residential unit were directly involved in abuse. The victims were some of Scotland's most troubled and troublesome youngsters. It also appears that the abuse sometimes occurred with the full knowledge of colleagues and superiors and that there was "a culture of fear and collusion".
Kerelaw school , although based in Ayrshire, was run and managed by Glasgow City Council who have much to answer for in this whole scandal. Of more immediate concern is the prospect that some of the workers suspected of being involved may still be working in Scotland's child care sector.
The report suggests that over and above the forty staff directly alleged to have been involved there were a much larger number of staff who knew about abuse and potential abuse but who failed to report it or take any action about it.
The report is also, rightly, critical of senior social work and education managers in Glasgow City Council who must take a very large share of the blame for what have clearly been gross and inexcusable deficiencies of direct and of external management.
Insiders have spoken of possibly many hundreds of victims. In the main it should be said this seems to have involved rough or violent restraint rather than sexual abuse. Not that this makes the matter any better.
Glasgow City Council, who took over running the school in 1995 from Strathclyde Regional Council, closed Kerelaw last year after they removed the school's entire management in June 2004 following a tip-off from a whistleblower within the school. At one time the school had 165 care and teaching staff and up to 74 pupils ( mostly boys aged 13 plus), including 24 in the secure unit.
The investigation report also indicates that around 20 members of staff have been the subjects of reports to the procurator-fiscal.
So far two members of staff have been jailed - art teacher Matt George ( 10 years) and care manager John Muldoon ( two and a half years). One member of staff has died and two others have had their cases dropped.
Outstanding cases remain against 15 members of staff of which five are for sexual offences and 10 for a number of assaults.
It is clear that reports of the abuse, many by children, had been made over the years but in a "culture of fear and collusion" such reports produced no clear action. Those involved in the external management of this establishment must shoulder much of the blame for this.
The investigation resulted in staff dismissals and suspensions but some former staff members continue to claim they are victims of false,malicious allegations by former pupils. Some former staff members have suggested that the former pupils may be motivated by financial compensation and the prospect of lawsuits against Glasgow City Council. They have also attempted to organise an internet campaign claiming that the Kerelaw allegations are false.
Many of the children at Kerelaw were tough and difficult kids - often there because of a history of offending - but this can in no way reduce the shock of this scandal or excuse the total failure of management at this establishment. Neither does it mean that these youngsters will have been any less traumatised by their experiences. Such youngsters needed firm but caring handling by well managed staff. Instead it appears they suffered physical and sexual abuse and neglect by inaction.
At least one part of the Scottish system appeared to function appropriately, when the Care Commission, in a joint inspection with HM Inspector of Education in 2004, helped ensure problems were exposed and action taken. We must not be complacent though. It is vital that regular external scrutiny is in place for all care establishments to ensure that such abuse of the vulnerable in our society cannot go uncovered. The children in our care deserve no less.
As for those involved in the internal and external management of this Unit - they should have no place within our care sector due to their disgraceful failures which allowed this situation to run unchecked.
It is also clear that there are worrying potential loopholes in Scotland's arrangements to protect children. Where staff had already moved on to new jobs with other employers Glasgow City Council was unable to fully investigate their conduct and some of these individuals may be working yet in other parts of the child care sector.
There are many lessons that must be learnt from this sorry sad affair. Care Staff must always remember their professional responsibilities not to remain quiet when they are suspicious of abuse - it is their professional responsibility to report it. Troubled or not, these were Scottish Children and they were being cared for on behalf of us all.
This must never happen again.