Councillors have unanimously agreed a series of recommendations including reforming the way it investigates complaints about abuse.
This follows the findings of an independent inquiry into how the Council handled complaints about the conduct of an employee who took his own life after being charged with serious sexual offences.
The inquiry was commissioned in October 2020 by Chief Executive Andrew Kerr following complaints about the historical behaviour of senior social worker Sean Bell, who was found dead in August that year.
Highly respected QC Susanne Tanner was appointed to lead the independent inquiry and presented her final open report at today’s Full Council meeting (Thursday 28 October). Both Ms Tanner and the Council’s Chief Executive answered detailed questions at the meeting.
In her report Ms Tanner makes a number of recommendations for the Council to act upon and an all party amendment was unanimously passed following the debate by Councillors at today’s meeting. This includes taking forward the recommendations in the report and the subsequent action plan from the Chief Executive that will be brought to the next Full Council meeting in November.
The recommendations include reforming the Council’s system of investigation relating to sexual allegations, domestic abuse, physical violence, stalking or harassment, to make sure that it is independent and impartial and mandatory training for all managers on domestic abuse, coercive control and dealing with individuals making complaints of a potentially criminal nature.
They also cover improving policies and procedures relating to staff relationships and record keeping and the setting up of an appropriate redress scheme, without admission of liability, to compensate those who were abused by Sean Bell.
Chief Executive Andrew Kerr said:
Once again I want to offer my deepest sympathies to all the survivors of Sean Bell who suffered abuse at his hands over so many years, including those who came forward to speak to the independent inquiry and those who may not have felt able to do so.
The report lays bare the extent of his abuse and the terrible and long-lasting impact it had, and continues to have, on their lives. I want to apologise to them on behalf of the Council – this should never have happened.
The Council has now publicly discussed the report’s findings at length and accepted all the recommendations. It’s important we move quickly to put in place a plan setting out how we will implement these recommendations and I will bring this back to the Council next month.
I want to reiterate my sincere thanks to the survivors and other participants for their courage in coming forward to give evidence to the inquiry team. I can only imagine how traumatic that must have been for them.
We are grateful to Ms Tanner and the Pinsent Masons team who supported her inquiry for their sensitive and thorough approach to their investigation and we will do everything in our power to ensure this can never happen again.
Council Leader Adam McVey said:
I want to thank the survivors for the courage, sincerity and perseverance in sharing their horrific experiences. I also want to apologise to them on behalf of all Councillors in light of their appalling experiences, which the independent inquiry has highlighted.
The detailed work carried out by Susanne Tanner and the Pinsent Masons team for this report has ensured the investigation, conclusions and recommendations were survivor-led and now gives us a clear way forward to strengthen the Council’s processes, policies and practice.
I’m pleased that, as councillors, we were able to reach a unified position to endorse the inquiry’s recommendations in full. It’s vital that we continue to work together to ensure the failures of the past cannot be repeated in the future.
Depute Leader Cammy Day said:
The bravery the survivors have shown in coming forward with their shocking testimonies of the abuse they experienced has been heartbreaking. No one should have to suffer as they have done and it’s due to their courage, honesty and openness in coming forward that we can makes changes for the future so I want to say sorry.
Thanks must go to Susanne Tanner and her team for their thorough work and Council officers who co-operated fully with their requests for information. We have asked the Chief Executive to report back to Council next month, detailing how the inquiry recommendations will be implemented in full to ensure this cannot and will not happen again.