Compensation hopes fade for oldest child abuse victims

The Scottish Government has pledged to find a solution as soon as possible.

Abuse: Victims in cases dating back to 1964 cannot claim compensation. <strong>PA</strong>
Abuse: Victims in cases dating back to 1964 cannot claim compensation. PA

The oldest survivors of child abuse in Scotland fear they are being denied any hope of winning compensation.

The Scottish Government is opening the way for hundreds of victims to seek damages through the courts but the change will not apply to cases pre-dating September 1964.

Ministers considered whether or not the so-called 1964 rule could be changed retrospectively but were advised doing so would contravene the European Convention of Human Rights.

Campaigners say the oldest survivors are dying out with no prospect of receiving justice.


Deputy first minister John Swinney has pledged to seek out a solution as quickly as possible.

Frank Docherty, of the In-Care Abuse Survivors charity, claims he suffered years of abuse at the hands of nuns at the Smyllum asylum in Lanark.

He said the experience was still raw despite the incidents taking place more than 60 years ago.

“You were brought up to revere these people and respect them,” he said.


“But they ridiculed you in front of the rest of [the children].”

“There are some things that never leave you. She made a habit of pulling you up during the day and saying ‘remember boy, what you’ve got to get before you go to bed’.”

Mr Docherty said four committee members had died in the past year without getting closure.

He added: “Why can Australia do it? Why can Ireland do it? And Canada? And yet here, they have got a cut-off date… The only way we can get back or hurt these people is money.”

The Scottish Government is searching for a solution to the 1964 impasse.

Northern Ireland’s child abuse inquiry has recommended a state-backed scheme which could provide compensation payments of up to £100,000, with contributions from institutions that ran the homes where abuse took place.

Asked if Scotland could follow Northern Ireland’s example, Mr Swinney said: “There is that possibility, certainly for the pre-1964 cases we’d have to consider something of that nature, because there’s no legal route for us to open up those cases any further than 1964.


“The government has moved very swiftly to take forward the various changes that we’re making.

“The historic child abuse inquiry has been established under this Government. The Limitation Bill is a big departure of legal principal. The Government has taken steps as quickly as possible.

“It is of an urgent nature. I readily acknowledge the fact that some survivors are worried that this takes time, but we will address that as quickly as we possibly can and come to conclusions based on the dialogue that we take forward.”

Holyrood’s justice committee is currently considering plans to remove the current time bar for bringing a civil court claim for damages within three years of the abuse taking place but it would not enable abuse survivors from before 1964 to seek redress in the civil courts.

MSPs were told on Thursday that the cost of removing the limit for victims of childhood abuse “may have been underestimated”.

Police Scotland warned the impact of the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill could be much higher than expected.

Financial documents published alongside the bill estimate the change in the law would result in about 2200 claims in the courts initially.

In a written submission to the committee, Police Scotland reiterated its support for the bill but added it estimated the force held at least 5000 files dating back to 1964 relating to reports of child abuse and neglect “within an institution or care setting or involving a person of public prominence”.

The force said the legislation was likely to have “significant resource (human and financial) implications” for the force and a “far-reaching impact” on individuals, groups and organisations.

The proposals are also supported by the Former Boys and Girls Abused in Quarriers Homes (FBGA), Scottish Human Rights Commission, Victim Support Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland.

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