Scottish Borders Council promises 'action' after child protection failings

Linda McCall

The leader of Scottish Borders Council has vowed to make improvements after a damning report into the authority's handling of allegations of assaults on vulnerable children.

At a special meeting, members agreed to adopt all 10 recommendations for improvement from Andrew Webster QC, who carried out an inquiry into the council's handling of complaints raised against former teacher Linda McCall.

An initial investigation cleared McCall but she was subsequently found guilty of assaulting five vulnerable children with severe learning difficulties. McCall avoided jail and instead was sentenced to 150 hours of unpaid community work.

She was found guilty of five charges of assaulting five children, and one count of threatening or abusive behaviour between August 2016 and October 2017.

Mr Webster QC was highly critical of the failure to report the concerns raised to the authority's child protection unit for more than a year, describing it as a "reprehensible period of time".

During questions at today's meeting Mr Webster QC said he did not believe - as some parents do - that there was a "cover-up" within the local authority.

Netta Meadows, the council's chief executive, said all of the report's 10 recommendations needed to be acted upon.

Additionally, an action plan is being drawn up and the first draft of it will be presented to full council next month.

Speaking after the meeting, council leader Mark Rowley apologised to all the families affected by the events.

Cllr Rowley said: “Now council has fully considered the independent inquiry, and agreed fully with its recommendations, I want to apologise on behalf of the council, to the children affected, to their families and to everyone in the Scottish Borders who has an interest in this.

“I am sorry that the matters were not referred to the child protection unit at the earliest opportunity, as they should have been, and I am sorry that the council failed to communicate appropriately with those parents who had raised various concerns over time. Most of all, the council apologises wholeheartedly that the incidents of abuse occurred in the first place."

 He added: “When I was given the report, I can tell you that I personally found it a very difficult read. It is clear we failed the children themselves, and didn’t communication with the families appropriately and that there were many missed opportunities to have done more, sooner."

The report is focused on the response of the council to the allegation when they were first made, right up to the beginning of the criminal matters. Mr Webster QC spoke to 31 people involved with the case and studied hundreds of emails, written reports, and copies of messages to study.

Cllr Rowley said: “We know we must do better, much better. In the coming weeks our chief executive will be taking the recommendations of the Independent Inquiry report and producing a response which council will consider on March 10. I for one, look forward to reading the proposals and to a period soon when further changes can be brought into play that will ensure that we do not fail the children in our care again.”

The report can be read in full here.