Wednesday 18 September 2019

Number of child abuse cases in Scouts 'set to soar'

Review of Scouting Ireland finds 71 suspected abusers and 108 victims from 1960s to 1980s

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: PA
Children's Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: PA

Cormac McQuinn and Ian Begley

There are major fears that the number of historic alleged child abuse cases involving scouting organisations is set to soar.

It comes after a review of cases found evidence of 71 suspected abusers and 108 victims mostly dating from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone revealed the shocking numbers at an Oireachtas committee where she described the situation as "devastating" and "extremely distressing".

Scouting Ireland said none of the alleged abusers was still working with the organisation and most of them are deceased.

Reports have been made to gardaí and Tusla in relation to suspected perpetrators.

The Children's Committee chairman, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell, said the revelations were deeply concerning and it was "cold comfort" that the cases were historic.

Scouting Ireland's new chairperson Aisling Kelly said: "We are deeply sorry for the hurt that has been caused by the actions of some past members of Scouting Ireland and its legacy organisations."

She promised "a comprehensive and compassionate response to those that were so badly wronged in the past".

Scouting Ireland has been at the centre of controversy over its governance and has seen State funding withheld on a number of occasions in recent months.

Questions have now arisen over whether financially-stretched Scouting Ireland has the capacity to support abuse victims and offer possible compensation in response to legal action.

And there is serious concern that the number of cases will spiral.

Support group One in Four said it had been contacted by "numerous" alleged victims of abuse who claimed they were sexually assaulted by a member of Scouting Ireland. It said while most of the allegations related to the period between the 1960s and 1980s, there were also recent incidents.

Advocacy director Deirdre Kenny added: "While the numbers outlined in the review are certainly shocking, it is likely that more people will start to come forward in the weeks ahead."

Child safeguarding expert Ian Elliot has been probing historical records held by Scouting Ireland. He told the committee some were handwritten notes of a "very limited nature" that required further investigation.

He said other sources on the number of cases came from individuals within Scouting Ireland who had shared concerns with him as well as from victims who contacted the organisation.

Mr Elliot said one "very serious perpetrator" did not have a file and was only discovered after a victim came forward.

He said 108 people had suffered "as a result of situations which they should never have been exposed to" and 14 of the alleged abusers had multiple victims.

Victims told of being abused at camping events and jamborees.

He believed the figures for the number of alleged victims would "probably rise quite considerably".

Most of the victims were alive and Scouting Ireland's new board of directors had agreed to adopt a victims' policy which would set out how they will respond to survivors.

Labour TD Seán Sherlock asked Ms Kelly if her organisation was considering financial compensation for victims.

Ms Kelly said the ring-fencing of a general compensation fund was "something that we will have to explore", but added: "Finances are an issue for us."

There was outstanding litigation relating to alleged abuse, but she declined to offer details on the number of cases.

Irish Independent

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