Nightmare is over for `ritual abuse' families

BY JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

Eight children taken into care after allegations of ritual sexual abuse are to be reunited with their parents after Scotland's most senior judge ruled an investigation by social workers was inept and flawed.

Lord Hope, Scotland's Lord President, yesterday upheld a ruling that the children had been "unjustifiably removed" from their Ayrshire homes by social workers with a "fashion" for seeking out ritual abuse. The "flawed" investigation had helped to create a "tragedy of immense proportions," he said.

Lord Hope's decision prompted calls for a fundamental review of the law affecting children north of the border. Paul Burns, the solicitor representing the families, called for new judicial safeguards to protect the rights of children and their parents.

The children - four boys and four girls aged 10 months to 11 years and from three families - were taken into care by Strathclyde Regional Council social workers in June 1990 after ritual sex abuse allegations. In August 1990, Sheriff Neil Gow QC ruled the eight were victims of "sinister sadistic, ritualistic" torture.

But, after lawyers acting for the children's parents uncovered new evidence that social workers were inadequately trained and had asked leading questions, the Court of Session in Edinburgh ordered a rehearing.

Sheriff Colin Miller, who conducted that hearing, found that evidence of alleged abuse had been ineptly collected and was "contaminated". In his ruling, he said that in 1990 there was a "fashion" to uncover ritual or satanic abuse.

Upholding Sheriff Miller's judgment yesterday, Lord Hope said: "It is clear that a tragedy of immense proportions has occurred...More than four-and -a-half years have gone by since the children were removed from their families in circumstances which the additional evidence has now demonstrated did not justify their removal."

Lord Hope ordered that the oldest child, now 15, should be allowed to go home immediately. The other seven would return during "a phased period". At least two children were too young to remember their parents when taken into care. Psychologists will help to reintroduce them to their mother and father.

The Ayrshire case comes after child abuse controversies in Cleveland, Orkney and Rochdale. One child law expert said last night it was "Rochdale revisited but much worse".

Lawyers for the families were last night examining the judgments before deciding whether to sue for damages. Strathclyde announced a full inquiry.

Years of hell, page 4

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