Orkney report to reopen nightmare

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The Independent Online
THE NIGHTMARE is about to start again for the Orkney families whose children were taken away in a dawn raid by social workers last February. 'The subject just went underground after the inquiry finished. We've largely shut it away,' said the father of two of the children.

That subject is allegations of ritual child sex abuse on the island of South Ronaldsay. On Tuesday, the long-awaited report from a pounds 6m eight-month public inquiry will be published.

The father, a teacher referred to as Mr M during Lord Clyde's judicial investigation, admits that his work - he also has a small farm - 'has never left much time to ponder'.

But the routine of farm life in South Ronaldsay's South Parish will be disrupted on Tuesday. Telephones have already been ringing with television companies arranging links to get the reaction of the four families whose nine children were taken into care but later returned.

There is no air of excitement, however. Mr M, speaking in a tone of almost resigned exhaustion, said: 'The inquiry was unsatisfactory. Early on we realised it was going to be of limited value. The children were badly let down in that they didn't have a voice to comment on mistakes and lies.'

Lord Clyde is praised for his intellect and his well-meaning intentions. 'But at the end we felt, so what?' said Mr M.

The one question that the hundreds of pages of the report will not answer is whether the parents were guilty or innocent of child sex abuse.

In February 1991, the reasons the children were removed from their families by Orkney social workers, assisted by others from the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (RSSPCC), were first revealed in formal children's panel hearings at Kirkwall.

The allegations centred on ritual music and dancing, intercourse and simulated intercourse between adults and children.

Dawn raids took some of the children from their beds to mainland foster homes. Some of their toys were left behind because of concern that they might have sinister connotations.

Five weeks later, in Kirkwall's main court, Sheriff David Kelbie threw out applications by Orkney social work department, which had taken the children into care.

The nine children came home the evening after his judgment, and an inquiry was set up by the Scottish Office. The united front between the four families and their supporters in the South Ronaldsay Parents' Action Committee has vanished. One family will now communicate with the others and the committee only through lawyers. One did not attend the committee's annual meeting two weeks ago. The mother of another family is now suffering from a serious stress-related disease.

Of the children involved, Mr M says: 'They are all older than their years.' Those involved in exams did 'well enough given the circumstances'. But there is anger about what he perceives as the stay-away behaviour of the Orkney social workers. 'If we did it, if we are such vile characters and continue to do this, why have they never been near us?'

A spokeswoman for Orkney Islands Council said that the social work department was 'continuing to provide a full service as they normally do'. However, internal sources say there is concern that Lord Clyde's report may be critical of the department's working practices.

Helen Martini, chair of the action committee, believes little is being done to re-establish links between the community and social workers. 'We know they think we're all a group of paedophiles out here, that up to 22 or 23 people were also involved. But if they are worried, why have they never visited us?'

The report is expected to make up to 200 recommendations, affecting not only Scotland's social work intervention policies, but working practices in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The RSSPCC also expects to come in for heavy criticism in the report, but privately its concerns about South Ronaldsay are as great as ever. On Tuesday it may have to admit to some errors of judgement, in how children were interviewed and its part in the dawn raids. Yet one source said the report 'won't change our mind about what we believed we were dealing with'.

A South Ronaldsay parent who became involved with the action committee because of fear that it would be her children next, said it was frightening that the RSSPCC still held this attitude.

'What we hope to see in Lord Clyde's report are recommendations that would ensure this could never happen again.'