Child abuse reconciliation

Published Date: 03 August 2008
The Scottish Government has refused to abolish the legal time bar which prevents many child abuse victims from the 1960s and earlier suing their tormenters for compensation. Instead, it wants to encourage victims to tell their stories and abusers to admit their guilt without fear of prosecution.

But doubts are mounting about whether the "truth and reconciliation" process will even be delivered on time. Ministers promised consultation by the summer but last night acknowledged even that was "months" away.

And one leading campaigner for victims of historic child abuse predicted hardly anyone would use it if and when it was set up. He said no-one would come forward to admit their guilt and that it would achieve nothing for sufferers who still wanted compensation awarded in a court of law.

That had been ruled out by ministers, who fear attempts to bring prosecutions over the abuse of children in homes more than 40 years ago are doomed to failure because of lack of evidence. The present law gives victims only three years after they turn 18 to bring a case.

Frank Docherty, former chairman of In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas) and a historic abuse victim himself, said the truth and reconciliation proposals were an insult.

He said: "I am not interested in telling my story – I wanted them to come out and admit that abuse did go on in Scotland, but they have never done that. What happened to me was decades ago and I still get upset every day."

Docherty is still in regular contact with other historic abuse victims since Incas, a self-help group and lobby force, folded last year. He predicted nobody would attend the forums.

He said: "When we talk to each other it helps, but nobody would go to a third party and speak about it.

"The Scottish Government should lift the time bar and let us get justice, but they never will because they know if they did they would be liable for millions of pounds for neglecting children in homes."

Adeline Bowden, 46, from Erskine, campaigned for 13 years to be able to sue her abusers but the campaign came to an end after the House of Lords ruling earlier this year that the time bar could not be lifted.

Bowden grew up in the Nazareth House convent in Cardonald, Glasgow, in the 1960s, where she claims she underwent beatings, force feedings, and routine humiliation by the Poor Sisters of Nazareth.

The Poor Sisters of Nazareth had children's homes in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Lasswade and Kilmarnock, and all have been the subject of numerous allegations that children were abused. One nun, Sister Alphonso, was convicted in 2000 of four child abuse charges.

Bowden described the abuse she alleges: "We were put in cold baths for wetting the bed, then the bed sheets were wrapped around us and our pants were put on our heads. We were fed porridge and if you couldn't eat it one of the carers would spoon feed you.

"You would start gagging and they would force you to eat it. If you were sick you were made to eat your own vomit as well. You would end up on the floor in a heap and they would beat you."

Bowden said she will not take part in truth and reconciliation. She said: "This is the last thing we want. I have deliberately stayed away because the last thing I want or need is to keep being reminded of my abuse. My memories are hard enough to live with."

A Scottish Government spokesman denied the truth and reconciliation scheme was running behind schedule. He said: "We are carefully considering a Scottish truth and reconciliation forum, which will give survivors the chance to speak about their experiences and to help come to terms with the past.

"It will provide an opportunity to establish the facts, learn from the suffering and use the experience to help us to protect children in the future.

"We will consult publicly and with survivors of abuse, support organisations and other providers of care on our approach in coming months."
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