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Whistleblower Christine Scott told councillors on Thursday that she and others who helped expose misconduct at the local authority believe an independent review has ‘suppressed the truth’ and failed to hold senior managers to account for malpractice.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Ms Scott claimed the Tanner reports into the city’s organisational culture ‘barely touched the sides’. The damning claims came as councillors discussed the implementation of 50 recommendations made by the top QC.
Ms Tanner’s inquiry into ex-council employee Bell exposed the senior social worker as a prolific abuser who was protected by colleagues who “looked after their own” for three decades prior to his death in 2020.
The shocking findings sparked the probe which concluded there is “not a universally positive, open, safe and supportive whistle-blowing and organisational culture for the raising of and responding to concerns of wrongdoing within the City of Edinburgh Council”.
Several recommendations in Tanner’s report are aimed at preventing any “old boys’ networks” like the one blamed for protecting serial abuser Sean Bell.
But Ms Scott stated that a number of senior managers at the centre of the Bell case and the mishandling of abuse complaints at Castlebrae High had been ‘allowed to leave their jobs with pensions intact’ while it’s claimed some still work at the council.
Ms Scott raised serious concerns about disclosures by whistleblowers over child abuse and claimed there was ‘an attempt to hide’ the Castlebrae scandal in findings published in both reports, published in September and December last year.
The former family centre manager originally raised concerns about the treatment of an adult learner who was later found to have been sexually harrassed by one of her teachers.
She is calling for the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) be scrapped after the victim in the Castlebrae case signed one, to put an end to ‘silencing’ victims of abuse and whistleblowers.
In addition she called for the redress scheme for victims of Sean Bell to be extended to all current and historic abuse victims of council employees.
As part of the Tanner review a budget of £2.5 million a year has been allocated to make the necessary changes, including funding towards compensation for Bell’s victims.
Ms Scott said any of his victims outside the council should also be supported and called for the misuse of public funds by Bell to be revisited to help prevent future unlawful activity.
Furthermore, the group has asked council chiefs for answers over evidence they submitted which they believe was not considered, after Tanner said she reviewed only documents from council officials.
Christine Scott said: “The Tanner two report into the children and families department we feel failed to identify a network operating in the children and families department, despite whistle-blowers identifying some of the same officers operating at the time and being involved in several whistle-blowing cases.
“These senior officers left without blame or consequence for their actions with their pensions securely in tact. One resigned as soon as an investigation was announced. We understand the council need to protect from reputation damage but the risk of that increases the bigger the cover up.”
“The Castlebrae complaint like the Sean Bell case had all the same hallmarks of malpractice. Both had a criminal case that didn’t go ahead. But recommendations made in a Safecall report following Castlebrae were somehow missing in subsequent council reports.
“Vital evidence was not available to the teaching council and other bodies to allow informed decisions to be made on malpractice. I believe there was an attempt to hide the seriousness of the Castlebrae case.”
She added: “In some cases victims were made to sign NDAs, a sinister tool to stop the truth coming out. There was bizarrely no mention of NDAs in Ms Tanner’s follow-up investigation.
“The victim in the Castlebrae case signed an NDA and was paid a settlement. We should not silence people when they have experienced wrongdoing.”
“We’re calling for a public inquiry into this because we don’t feel that the £1.4 million and the £2.5 million in implementing these recommendations in the report, we don’t consider it best value when no one is held to account for alleged serious malpractice and potential criminality.”
Councillor Alison Dickie, who has supported whistle-blowers coming forward within the council, thanked Ms Scott for her “utter bravery in being here”.
Chief Executive Andrew Kerr said: “I want to thank the deputation for their contribution at today’s council meeting and all the other whistleblowers and survivors who came forward as part of this process.
“I have offered to meet with them to discuss how we can incorporate any learning from their experiences into how the recommendations will be implemented.
“This was a very robust and detailed independent process overseen by Ms Tanner QC, assisted throughout by investigation teams from highly respected law firm, Pinsent Masons who have considerable experience in this area.
“The terms of reference were approved by the political group leaders at the outset, and councillors have now accepted the findings and recommendations in full.
“The detailed implementation plan, which will take forward the recommendations, was approved, with an update to come back to Council later in the year.”