Fresh controversy engulfs troubled child abuse inquiry
A TOP civil servant is facing calls to resign amid claims she said it
was “OK” for abuse victims to die if their demise resulted in greater
support in future cases where there was a risk of suicide.
Campaigners are urging Deputy First Minister John Swinney to remove a
senior official linked to the inquiry into historic abuse at Scottish
care homes following a string of complaints about her conduct.
Jessica McPherson works closely with victims of abuse in her role
setting up Survivor Scotland, a fund which supports those giving
evidence to the inquiry. She is head of delivery, care rights and
support, at the Scottish Goverment.
She is alleged to have offended abuse survivors and charity leaders by
saying “it was OK for clients to die for change to happen” during a
discussion about inadequate support for victims who could become
Janine Rennie, chief executive of abuse charity Open Secret, and
project manager Safia Ali claim to have heard the alleged remark during a
meeting to discuss a support team being established on August 24 last
The two charity workers say that they were shocked and twice asked Ms
McPherson to retract her comments, but she repeated and confirmed them.
A client of Open Secret said that on a separate occasion, when he
spoke of having suicidal thoughts, Ms McPherson asked why he had failed
to get over the abuse he had received.
Paul, who did not wish to disclose his surname, said: “She said ‘haven’t you moved on?
“I felt seriously let down.”
It is understood at least three grievances have been lodged with the Scottish Government about Ms McPherson’s conduct.
John Swinney, whose remit as Education Secretary includes the Scottish
Child Abuse Inquiry has told Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald that the
allegations had been examined by former minister for mental health Jamie
In a letter to Mr MacDonald, Mr Swinney said Ms McPherson had been
fully exonerated by an investigation and that this had concluded the
behaviour by Ms McPherson was “entirely correct”.
But Jannie Rennie, who heard the alleged comment, said neither she nor
Ms Ali were ever interviewed about the incident they witnessed.
Meanwhile Ms McPherson was also become the focus of a several damaging
allegations from White Flowers Alba, which also represents and
campaigns for abuse victims, the majority of whom suffered in Catholic
Three abuse survivors signed a statement claiming that when told of
alleged sexual abuse perpetrated against White Flowers chairman Andi
Lavery at school, she said: ““It’s alright, it’s only Andi”.
This statement also alleges Ms McPherson has belittled Mr Lavery and
been hostile to the involvement of their group, commenting on another
occasion “these guys don’t matter.”
Ms McPherson has also alienated members of the group In Care Abuse
Survivors Scotland (INCAS), on one occasion responding angrily to the
presence of their lawyer at a meeting in 2015, with the result that he
was excluded from the meeting.
Helen Holland, deputy chair of INCAS, said: “I’ve worked with civil
servants for 16 years. I think [Ms McPherson] has been the most
difficult of all of them.”
Ms Holland says “her attitude is that if someone has been having
counselling, shouldn’t they be getting on with their life, shouldn’t
they be better now? She has a misunderstanding of abuse and how it
affects people. It concerns me that the Government would allow someone
from that background to work with survivors. When you are talking about
the abuse of children, you can’t have that attitude.”
In his letter dismissing the claims from Open Secret, Mr Swinney says the charity has been asked not to “denigrate” officials.
But the charity says they are providing evidence of misconduct.
Open Secret colleagues, Ms Rennie and Ms Ali, deny any suggestion that
their claims arise from bad grace over losing the contract to provide
counselling to those involved in the child abuse inquiry.
Despite the potential cost to Open Secret of falling out with the Government, they have the backing of the charity’s board.
Ms Rennie said they chose not to bid for the work over concerns about
the approach the government was taking, and added: “why would I make
this up? It is professional suicide to say these things – we will never
win a contract again.”
Those expressing concern about Ms McPherson contrast the approach
taken by Mr Swinney to widespread concerns about her attitude and
comments to the abrupt action he took when claims were made about the
former chair of the Inquiry Susan O’Brien QC.
In response to comments Ms O’Brien allegedly made in February, the
education secretary began a process to sack her as chair, on the grounds
that her comments – which had been made in a private meeting – might
reach the ears of abuse survivors and discredit the inquiry.
Speaking about Ms McPherson, Mr Lavery said: “She is universally unpopular. She needs to be sacked and action taken.”
The Herald asked the Scottish Government press office to invite Ms McPherson to comment or to respond on her behalf.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We do not comment on individual members of staff.
“Whenever serious issues, such as this, are raised with us, we examine
them. We did this when these matters were first raised and would always
do so if further information came to light.”
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