Orkney report will focus on social workers

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND'S social workers and child protection procedures will come under the public spotlight in two reports to be published today.

The Government will release the findings of the public inquiry into alleged ritual sex abuse on the Orkney island of South Ronaldsay. Nine children were taken from their homes in dawn raids before being reunited with their parents five weeks later.

Simultaneously, the Government will publish another report into social work in Fife. This report, running to 1,500 pages, follows an inquiry lasting three years and is thought to centre on disagreements over a policy of keeping children in their own homes under supervision, rather than taking them into care.

Conducted behind closed doors by Sheriff Brian Kearney, it is estimated by Henry McLeish, the Labour MP for Fife Central, to have cost pounds 4m. None of the cases studied by the Fife inquiry involved sex abuse.

The Orkney inquiry, which has produced 200 recommendations, is unofficially thought to have cost pounds 6m and allegations of child sex abuse and bizarre sex rituals in a local quarry involving children and adults, lie at the heart of the controversy. But paradoxically, the report by the Scottish judge Lord Clyde is unlikely to say if the claims were true. When the Government gave him his remit, it was limited to investigating the decisions and actions taken by those involved. The saga began when the children, aged from eight to 15, were taken from their homes on 27 February last year. The operation, under place-of-safety orders, was prompted by the claims by other children already in care.

As controversy grew, parents proclaimed their innocence and campaigned publicly for their children's return. They were reunited after Sheriff David Kelbie ruled the case was 'fatally flawed' and the manner in which the children had been interviewed amounted to 'coaching'.

But his decision effectively left the affair in a legal limbo by aborting it at a procedural stage. The sheriff was later criticised by the Scottish Appeal Court which ruled he was wrong to throw it out without hearing evidence.

No criminal proceedings have been mounted in respect of any of the parents involved.