Monday May 17th 2021
Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, has called for an independent inquiry into Scottish Borders Council’s handling of abuse allegations at the Tweeddale Support Unit in Peebles, which educates children with special needs. This follows a former teacher at the unit, Linda McCall, being found guilty at Jedburgh Sheriff Court last week of assaulting children in her care.
The children, aged between 5 and 7, are autistic and non-verbal. Ms McCall was found guilty of violently manhandling the children by dragging then across the floor, pushing them against walls and screaming in their faces. Because of the children’s special needs they were not able to express what was happening to their parents or other adults, with some parents initially becoming concerned by changes in their children’s behaviour, such as hiding school uniform and becoming visibly distressed when it was time to go to school. Other parents noticed unusual bruising on their child.
Other staff members at the unit raised concerns about Ms McCall’s behaviour in 2017, however following a suspension the council later cleared her of any wrongdoing with SBC officials meeting with the parents to incorrectly assure them their children had not been harmed. Ms Grahame, having been contacted by a number of people concerned about the case, raised it with police and the Procurator Fiscal. Subsequently an initial trial of Ms McCall took place in July 2020, but it was ruled there was no case to answer. Ms Grahame queried this decision with the Procurator Fiscal as it appeared a number of statements from parents and staff had not been taken into account. Subsequently, the Crown Office successfully appealed resulting in Ms McCall being found guilty last week on five counts of assault and one count of threatening or abusive behaviour between August 2016 and October 2017.
SNP MSP Ms Grahame said:
“There very clearly now needs to be an independent inquiry into how this was handled. That an internal investigation by Scottish Borders Council found no wrongdoing, when the same case later met the threshold for a guilty verdict in court is very concerning.
“The parents were not taken seriously when they came forward and the council should not have been allowed to investigate itself. I find it hard to believe that no-one realised the teacher was out of her depth and needed support.
“The consequence has been that vulnerable children have been left with lasting damage and trauma. The special needs of the children make this case particularly distressing, as they cannot advocate for themselves and are not able to understand what’s happened to them or why. Their families are left to pick up the pieces.
“The blame lies at the door of Scottish Borders Council and they must now answer for it. This case has not been handled at all well at any stage.”Tweet Share on Facebook