Ministers were not trying to “cover things up” when they previously resisted calls for an inquiry into the physical and sexual abuse of children in care, former first minister Jack McConnell has said.
Speaking at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, Lord McConnell, who was first minister between 2001 to 2007, said any decisions made were “trying to do the right things by survivors, and by those who might go into care in the future”.
Lord McConnell said: “The core decision was about trying to do the right thing – not to impress the public, or the parliament, or to cover things up.
“I think the majority of people involved were trying to achieve the right outcome.”
The latest phase of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, heard before Judge Lady Smith, is exploring reasons why calls between August 2002 and December 2014 for a public inquiry to be held were resisted by ministers.
The current inquiry was set up in October 2015 and is investigating abuse of children in care in Scotland or where their care was arranged in Scotland.
Lord McConnell said: “I was very clear from the first conversation that there would be an apology.
“I wanted to ensure the timing and delivery were appropriate to give a strong feeling to survivors that it was a genuine and heartfelt apology.
“In my own head, there was never any doubt from the first discussion in 2002, that at the right minute I’d deliver an apology and that it had to be done by the First Minister, and in the strongest possible terms.”
James Peoples QC, senior counsel to the inquiry, asked: “Was the advice from the lawyers not to use the word apology, as it could have legal liability?”
Lord McConnell responded: “The issue for me was not so much on litigation, but that someone, somewhere might also be involved in compensation, and who else was responsible.
“Even the petition itself was very clear that others, as well as the government, was involved in this tapestry of responsibility.”
He said the Lord Advocate warned that by issuing an apology it could have relinquished the Catholic Church from any legal responsibility, as the Scottish Government could be seen to have accepted full responsibility.
Judge Smith asked: “In that list of possible outcomes, it included the Scottish Government picking up the entirety of the tab. Did it bother you that that was a possibility?”
Lord McConnell said: “The only thing that bothered me was that those who had been directly responsible for the institutions, who had been involved in significant cover-up and put survivors through so much trauma, would be off the hook.
“I believed it was right for those institutions to learn the right lessons, they needed to be part of the solution.”
Lord McConnell also explained that after talks with religious orders it was clear “they were not voluntarily going to step up to the plate” and hoped that any apology would “have some influence and force them to feel public pressure”.
Lord McConnell also said he felt that the committee choosing a package of measures as a resolution for abuse survivors was “incomplete”.
He said: “My objective was to give some way for survivors to record their experience and influence any aspect of policy still to be dealt with.
“I felt that even if no further improvements were made to the care system, the very experience of being heard was important for survivors.”
Judge Smith asked how survivors felt about a full public inquiry, saying: “Can you recall if there was a range of opinions – at one end you had survivors who were very anti an inquiry and the other you have people pushing for one?”
Lord McConnell responded: “I would say more uncomfortable rather than anti – there were survivors who were uncomfortable with the idea of an inquiry.”
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