Both the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) and the England and Wales Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), were established in 2015 following growing numbers of allegations of abuse and changing societal pressures to look into how that abuse occurred. Much of this gained momentum after the 2011 death of Jimmy Savile, however survivors had been calling for independent inquiries for at least a decade before that.
In the last five years, the SCAI has produced 3 case studies or reports on 6 groups of organisations, and has a growing list of investigations to undertake. The IICSA has concluded eight of fifteen proposed investigations which were the subject of public hearings, and published an interim report with recommendations. It is due to publish a final report when the Inquiry closes.
What has emerged across both Inquiries is a pattern of institutional abuse of vulnerable children throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and a lack of response from those with direct and indirect responsibility.
As well as hearing from survivors, both Inquiries are also looking into the responses of institutions and organisations to allegations and evidence of abuse. Both have published findings showing serious failings in the protection of children and in responding to allegations, both while the abuse was ongoing and in later years. In early November 2020 the IICSA published a report on the response by the Catholic Church to allegations of abuse going back decades, stating that the Church “prioritised its own reputation over the welfare of vulnerable children”.
As investigations have progressed and more survivors come forward, more organisations have been included in the scope of both Inquiries. This year the SCAI added Glenochil, Polmont and Barlinnie Young Offenders Institutions and Longriggend Detention Centre, perhaps in recognition of the sheer number of former children in care who end up in such an institution, often almost immediately upon leaving the care system.
While both Inquiries have been careful not to set estimated dates of conclusion and final reporting, there is a wealth of emerging evidence which requires thorough investigation and so it seems clear that they will both run for some years yet. The Scottish Government recently issued a tender notice for transcription services for the SCAI to last potentially until 2026, although it has not been confirmed by the SCAI that this is in fact a projected timescale for the inquiry.
The news has, however, brought to light the concerns of many of those who have given evidence to the SCAI that they will simply never see its conclusion. Bound up in this is the concern that their abusers and their employers will never face any kind of justice, and lessons which could protect vulnerable children in care now will not be learned.
While both Inquiries have released interim findings and recommendations, and where necessary passed allegations to the police for investigation, it is true that neither seem to be coming to an end any time soon. For any Inquiry to be effective there must be public confidence in it, and a balance has to be struck between meaningful investigations and timeous reporting. Given the lack of action over such a long period of time before the Inquiries were established, it is hoped that they will work quickly to provide some answers to those waiting for them, as well as changes in policy for those who still need to be protected.