The Kerelaw Papers

By Bob Forrest

Date Posted: Saturday, 11 June 2011


Bob Forrest was formerly the head of Kerelaw List D School in Scotland. Bob was the school’s longest serving head and retired before the school was taken over by Glasgow City Council.


The Kerelaw Papers

Foreword by Mark Smith

As we know only too well, the recent history of residential child care has been marred by a succession of historical child abuse scandals. Received knowledge of historical abuse is constructed around the proliferation of inquiry reports that inevitably follow in the aftermath of each new scandal. We are encouraged to believe that such inquiries provide the definitive account of what went so badly wrong, and why, in those settings on which they cast their gaze.

Inquiry reports, however, are blunt instruments through which to understand residential care. Butler and Drakeford in their fascinating book on social work scandals argue that the purpose of inquiries is not to provide a neutral or objective account of events but is to establish a ‘master narrative’, ‘which, for all its claims to objectivity and veracity, is only one partisan version of many possible accounts’ (Butler and Drakeford, 2005: 235). The authors go on to note that ‘dissenting and questioning voices are to be discovered, submerged beneath the dominant discourse’ (2005, 137). The submerged voices in this area are those of carers and of adults who had very different experiences in residential child care from those claimed by a vocal minority of ‘victims’ and ‘whistleblowers’.

It can be difficult for these dissenting voices to be heard. They are dismissed, drowned out by more powerful interests. Throughout history, though, submerged voices have used devices of humour and satire to puncture the pomposity of official narratives and to insinuate other possible accounts into the public realm. What follows is one such attempt to destabilize an ‘official’ account and to bring to the surface dissenting and questioning counter-narratives. In contrast to the ‘official’ voice, which pretends to bring an air of detached expertise, objectivity and authority to its account, this is very evidently an ‘insider’ perspective, reflecting a voice of residential child care and those who worked in it. ‘Insiders’ rarely recognise the pictures painted of their workplaces in official reports.

The scenarios relate to events in Kerelaw School in Ayrshire, Scotland. Kerelaw was the largest open and secure residential school in Scotland. It was directly funded by The Scottish Office until, in 1986, it was taken under the control of Strathclyde Regional Council and subsequently, after the reorganization of local government in 1996, by Glasgow City Council. Despite facilities and staffing levels that were recognised as far from ideal, Kerelaw had a good reputation.  Inspection reports commended it noting, inter alia that
“Young people feel safe and secure at Kerelaw.  Staff are well motivated and work collaboratively.  There is a good standard of personal care and control”.

Then, in June 2004 Glasgow City Council initiated investigations into allegations of abuse. Its inquiries mushroomed. The entire senior management team was removed, dozens of staff were investigated internally or by the police. Two men were convicted and jailed for abuse although both maintain their innocence. ‘They would wouldn’t they’ might be the obvious retort to this remark. But other instances of men (it is almost invariably men) jailed for historical abuse might suggest that the methods used to obtain such convictions are seriously flawed.

Glasgow City Council produced a report claiming that 40 workers at Kerelaw had been directly implicated in abuse and other staff had been complicit in allowing this to happen. The inevitable consequence of Glasgow’s actions was that the school closed. A valuable resource for young people was lost, the lives of almost 200 staff and their families ruined and countless reputations besmirched. Moreover, dozens of children placed in Kerelaw no longer felt safe there. They were moved on, whether ready or not, to a range of resources far less able to care for them.
Subsequent employment tribunals caused much of Glasgow’s account of events to unravel. In response to persistent agitation from the staff group and local politicians the Scottish Government set up an inquiry under the chairmanship of Eddie Frizzell, a retired civil servant. While Frizzell’s final report dismissed Glasgow City Council’s claims regarding the scale of abuse at Kerelaw, its conclusions were felt by former staff to be little more than a fudge, designed to draw a political line under the Kerelaw episode.

Whether it has done so in the minds of former staff members is open to doubt as the following scenarios make clear. They make insightful and telling observations about the way in which the external environment interfaces with residential child care.


The Kerelaw Papers : 1

Scene : Office of the Minister for Children & Early Years, Holyrood, September 2007


“Good Morning, Humphrey.  There’s something we must discuss. I need your advice”

“But of course, Minister, always willing to be of assistance in any way I can.  What seems to be the problem?”

“The problem is Kerelaw, Humphrey.  We will have to do something about it.”

“But, Minister, Kerelaw has been closed for months now and Glasgow City Council published its report in June after 3 years of investigation into allegations of abuse.  Besides it’s not our problem.”

“Well, Humphrey, it looks as if it’s becoming our problem.  You will have read that the Crown has dropped all prosecution charges against Kerelaw staff. There is increased evidence that conflicts with GCC’s findings, and there is an increasing demand for some kind of government enquiry into the whole affair.  Much of the media are demanding it, but the most vociferous are the former Kerelaw staff, who feel that they have been victimised.  One has even asked for a Judicial Review”.

“That is totally out of the question, Minister.”

“Why, Humphrey?  Surely it is in everyone’s interest that all the facts are revealed.  The public have a right to know”

I could see Humphrey struggle to contain his frustration.

“The public do not have a right to know, Minister.  Besides it is not in their interests, nor ours either for that matter.  In fact it would be a total disaster for everyone if the whole truth were to emerge.”

Humphrey never ceases to amaze me. ” Whatever happened to the concept of transparent government? ” I asked him  “and why would it be a total disaster for everyone?” He took a few moments to compose himself before launching forth.

“Minister, it is simply too big a step to take from keeping the public in the dark to letting them see everything.  A more measured approach would be to have a translucent government, one  which sheds a lot more light where the public can distinguish shapes and vague images, but cannot see the exact details.  That is a much safer policy.  Look at what happened when the public were given details of MP expenses!”  As to why all the facts about Kerelaw should never be allowed to come out, I shall explain”.

Humphrey looked so smug that I knew he was about to address me in his best Headmaster role.

“As you are aware, Minister, there are two diametrically opposed views about Kerelaw.  GCC allege long term wide spread abuse and have produced a 5-page report encapsulating 3 years of investigation —though none of it contained any actual evidence.  On the other hand, there is a body of opinion which cites the inspections made by the different independent agencies – SWIA, Care Commission and HMIE – over many years, none of which even hint at any type of abuse.  On the contrary they mention good relationships between young people and staff, young people feeling safe, good standard of care and personal control etc.  These also reflect the views of independent advocate bodies – Childrens Rights Officer, Consultant Psychiatrist, Psychologist etc. who visited Kerelaw regularly every week—in some cases for decades.
Clearly Minister, one of these views has to be wrong”.

“My point exactly, Humphrey.   Lets have a Review to find out which one.” I interjected.

“Minister”, Humphrey almost shouted in exasperation.  “There are only 2 possible conclusions for such a Review.  One is that GCC are correct and there was widespread long-term abuse or, Two, that the GCC got it spectacularly wrong.  If the Review concludes that GCC’s findings are essentially correct, then clearly all the other agencies (SWIA, Care Commission, HMIE etc) mentioned have been a complete waste of money.  If they cannot detect long- term widespread abuse then what use are they? They are complete failures and should be disbanded.”

“Excellent idea, Humphrey.  Sack them all.  Cut public expenditure and get rid of red tape at one stroke.  Masterful.  The public will love it.” I could barely contain myself.

Humphrey looked pained.

“Minister, such action is totally impossible.  The unions would simply not allow it and in the current economic climate it would be political suicide to add thousands more to the dole queues.”

“I suppose you’re right, Humphrey.  Instead of sacking them all we could re-deploy them.  In that way no jobs would be lost.”

“And to where exactly, Minister, would you re-deploy them?” asked Humphrey with a touch of sarcasm.

“Well these are all professionally trained ,qualified people, Humphrey, – social workers and teachers.  Let’s get them back to working at the coalface.  We could increase social work/client and teacher/pupil ratios at a stroke and at no extra cost.  The first minister would be impressed with that.  There could even be promotion in it for me.”

This was initially met with silence and then Humphrey’s face began to distort. He frantically searched his pockets and finally found a handkerchief to stuff in his mouth, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Humphrey, I’m going out for a smoke.  We’ll resume this discussion when I get back.” was all I could think of saying.

I had just closed the door behind me when I heard the explosion of uncontrolled laughter.  When I returned later, Humphrey had composed himself sufficiently to explain what he had found so hilarious about my ideas.

“Well, Minister, I was trying to envisage all these inspectors/advisors trying to deal with clients face to face. They wouldn’t have a clue. It would be a disaster.  We really could not allow that.”

The more I thought of it, the more absurd it was and I realised that Humphrey was right.  I could not stop smiling.

I thought it best to return to the original discussion.

“Suppose, Humphrey, a Review finds that the GCC got it all wrong and there was no long term widespread abuse.  What then?”

“Then, Minister, we could have a Nova Scotia situation on our hands.  Let me explain.  Shelburne School in Nova Scotia was a similar establishment to Kerelaw and in the 1990s a few former employees were convicted of abuse.  Following this there was an explosion of claims against the Provincial Government and hundreds of allegations against staff. The total cost including legal fees was estimated at between $54 and $100 million (much paid out to claimants who had never been in residential care much less abused in it) All the staff  were  subjected to police investigation by the RCMP.  No one was exempt from suspicion.  It was felt that the public statements by Government Ministers, bureaucrats, media, judges and lawyers had created an atmosphere that led the public to believe that the allegations made against employees were certainly true.  Employees had potential criminal charges and disciplinary proceedings hanging over their heads for years.  Staff lives, careers and families were ruined.

Staff took a class action against the Provincial Government and they were awarded compensation well in excess of $8million.  If a Review found that GCC got it wrong, it would open the flood- gates for claims by twice as many former Kerelaw staff.  It would cost the taxpayer a fortune.”

I realised the extent of the problem.

“Well, Humphrey, you’ll have to come up with something before we get pressurised into a Judicial Review.  The pressure is mounting.  There must be some solution.”

That afternoon Humphrey came into my office smiling.

“I think I have a solution to our problem, Minister.  We shall establish an Independent Enquiry.”

“An Independent Enquiry, Humphrey?  How on earth does that help?”

Sometimes I just can’t fathom how Humphrey thinks.

“Well, Minister, in an Independent Enquiry everything depends on who the Chairman is. He absolutely has to be ‘sound’.

“If he’s ‘sound’,” I remarked, “surely there’s a danger he’ll bring everything into the open?”

“No, not if he’s ‘sound’.” Humphrey explained, “A ‘sound’ man will understand what is required.  He will perceive the implications. He will have a sensitive and sympathetic insight into the overall problem.”

He was suggesting we rig it, in fact.  “Ah, so ‘sound’ means ‘bent’? I said.

“Certainly not!”  He was too quick with his denial (Methinks Sir Humphrey doth protest too much)   He tried again, “I mean, a man of broad understanding…”

I decided to short circuit the process by making some suggestions.  “Then what about a retired politician?”

“….and unimpeachable integrity” added Humphrey

“Oh, I see.” I paused to think “What about an academic or a businessman?”

Sir Humphrey shook his head.

“Okay,” I said, knowing he had someone in mind already. “Out with it, who?”

“Well, Minister, I though perhaps of a retired Civil Servant”.

I saw his point, “Good Thinking, Humphrey”.  It’s wonderful what years of training can do for you!

“Eddie Frizzell could be the man”. He went on.

I wasn’t too sure about this.  “You don’t think he might be too independent?”

“Minister, he has an excellent reputation as a very successful career civil servant, is highly regarded and of course, is considered very ‘sound’” replied Humphrey.

“Are you sure it will wash, Humphrey?  Has such a strategy been tried before?” I asked desperately seeking reassurances.

“Of course, Minister, we use it all the time in the Civil Service.  As a matter of fact I can remember, early on in my career, my predecessor used the same ploy when the Government wanted to pull out from responsibility for the List D School System, which coincidentally included Kerelaw.  The Government could not appear to impose a unilateral decision , so they commissioned a retired Civil Servant to carry out an Independent Review.  If I recall, his name was Fides and he was very ‘sound’”

“With a name like that, I would not have expected otherwise, Humphrey.”  I said aloud ,proud of my O level in Latin ,while thinking to myself ‘Another Civil Servant!’

“So what happened, Humphrey?”

“Well, Minister, he conducted his Independent Enquiry and recommended that the Government should hand over financial responsibility  to Local Authorities.  The Government accepted his recommendation and that was that.  1985 I think it was.”

“And did everyone accept his finding, Humphrey?” I enquired

“Certainly, Minister, everyone knew what the outcome was going to be before the review even started.  As I recall, Fides’ conclusions bore absolutely no relation to the evidence with which he was presented, but then who cares as long as the desired outcome was achieved?”

“So be it. We’ll have an Independent Enquiry.  Is there anything else I need to do, Humphrey?”

“Not at all, Minister, if you’re happy to leave the finer details to me.”

“Such as what, Humphrey?”

“Well, Minister, to ensure an appropriate outcome we have to be very precise with the terms of reference for the enquiry.  For instance, they cannot say ‘…seek to establish whether there was widespread abuse at Kerelaw.’ They would have to say ‘… seek to establish the extent of abuse at Kerelaw.’ The wording is crucial, as indeed is the membership of the enquiry team.  Obviously we need to ensure there is no one appointed to the team who has any experience of Residential Schools or Secure Units, minor details like that, Minister.”

“Splendid, Humphrey.  I’ll leave it all to you then.

“I suppose we should be relieved, Humphrey that no one has demanded an enquiry into the total cost of this Kerelaw debacle.  It must be over £5 million pounds of taxpayers money.”

“Not at all, Minister, at least two or three times that amount.”

“You’re joking, Humphrey.”  I gasped

“No joke, Minister, when you think of the cost of 3 years police enquiry by the serious crime squad, purchase of alternative placements for Kerelaw , enhanced pension payments, redundancy payments and more than 20 suspended staff sitting at home on full salaries – in some cases for  4 years, awards to be made by employment tribunals for wrongful dismissal ,and legal costs etc. It all mounts up, but you don’t need to worry about that, Minister.  It’ll never get into the public domain.”

“But how can you be so sure, Humphrey?”

“Well, Minister, the former leader of GCC responsible for the closure of Kerelaw and the huge costs incurred, is no other than Charlie Gordon MSP, convener of the Scottish Parliament Audit Committee.”

Humphrey excused himself and left while I was still struggling to laugh and speak at the same time.



The Kerelaw Papers 2

Scene : Office of Minister for Children to Early Years , May 2009

Well, Humphrey,looks like we’ve got away with it.” I said

“With what, Minister, have we got away?” asked Humphrey.

Why must these Civil Servants be so pedantic?  “The Kerelaw Independent Enquiry Report” of course, published yesterday.  Well received.  Glasgow accepts its finding and pledges that the Council would now work towards implementing its recommendations – learn key lessons.  The circumstances which led to the Enquiry will never will be repeated – blah, blah, blah.  We, of course, have made it clear that it all happened before we came into power and it had nothing to do with us.  Splendid Humphrey.  Well done”.

“Thank you, Minister.” Replied Humphrey modestly

“It was a superb piece of work.  You were right.  Frizzell is very sound.  He certainly has a way with words and I must say he was very temperate in his criticisms of Glasgow.  Some sentences are beautiful constructions of the English language.  I particularly liked, ‘We believe that to draw an inference from GCCs report on its investigation that 40 staff might have been involved in sexual abuse over a lengthy period and that a much larger number knew about it and did nothing, would not be justified.’  Why not just say that GCCs report was just a load of twaddle?  Remember the Herald made front page headlines of the report and used it to vilify and demonise Kerelaw staff”.

“Minister, GCC would never have agreed to accept the report in advance unless they had guarantees that no individual in HQ would be singled out for criticism and that there was no reference to their breathtaking corporate incompetence”. replied Humphrey

“In advance of what, Humphrey?  The report being published or the Enquiry being started?”  I began to feel uneasy.

“Well, Minister, both actually.” Said Humphrey looking embarrassed.

“Humphrey, are you telling me that GCC agreed to accept the findings of the Independent report before Frizzell even started his Enquiry?”  I could hear my voice rising.

“Minister, you must appreciate that there are certain protocols that have to be followed prior to initiating an Enquiry.  As I made reference, last year, to the Fides report, we have to ensure that the Independent report achieves the required outcome.  In the case of Kerelaw, we had to agree to a representative of Glasgow being on the Enquiry team.  If we had not, we could have been denied access to documentation that the Enquiry needed or worse, provided with information that we did not want to receive.”

“I must say, Humphrey, that I thought it a bit strange at the time that an Independent Enquiry into GCC’s stewardship of Kerelaw contained a Glasgow employee.” I commented.

“Well, Minister, there were very good reasons for that.  Other than those already mentioned, we had to ensure that very few Kerelaw employees would give evidence”.

“I’m sorry, Humphrey, you’ve lost me”. I had to admit

“Similarly,” continued Humphrey, “we had to ensure that very few former pupils would give evidence.  Although the Enquiry was provided, by the former principal, with the names and addresses of about 150 Kerelaw pupils , it decided that ‘it was not practical’ to contact them.  In the end only 22 former pupils gave evidence and some of those were from the 1980’s and spoke very positively about their experiences.  Considering that Kerelaw dealt with about 4000 young people over the years, there was hardly a substantial number beating a path to the Enquiry to complain about abuse and maltreatment”.

“Humphrey, I still don’t understand.  Why did the Enquiry not want lots of former staff and pupils to give evidence?”

“Minister, if lots of pupils and staff had come forward we would have had no control over the outcome”. Explained Humphrey patiently

“Such as, Humphrey?”

“Well, Minister, you will have noticed that the Frizzell report made no mention of how many witnesses spoke negatively about Kerelaw, though he did comment that ‘There were good and dedicated staff who worked hard for young people.  Many young people testified to that, and said that they had a positive experience at Kerelaw’  If hundreds of witnesses had come forward to speak positively about Kerelaw, you would have had to conclude that although there may have been abuse, it was certainly not long term, nor widespread.  Glasgow would have looked like idiots”.

“So what’s wrong with that, Humphrey?” I asked

“One word, Minister, ‘Nova Scotia’”. Replied Humphrey smugly

“That’s 2 words, Humphrey.  You’re slipping.  However, I take your point.  Anyhow, it’s all over now, thank goodness.  So the Enquiry was just going through the motions – like swimming in the Clyde”. I sighed.

“Yes, Minister”.

Author’s acknowledgement

This article has been inspired by the writings of Jonathan Lynn & Anthony Jay – some of which
have been quoted directly from “Yes Minister; The Compassionate Society.”



Jeremy Millar  writes,

Bloody brilliant. The workings of a liberal democracy laid bare.

Andrew Walker  comments,

I enjoyed Bob’s article – I worked with Bob at Kerelaw for 8 years. The “Yes Minister” scenario is a hoot, and has more than an element of truth and real life drama in its content and presentation.

I wished to respond under your “Comments” facility, but this is limited to 500 characters, hence this e-mail. This is what I wished to include in my comment:

This is a verbatim extract from a Q. and A. session in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, after the Minister Adam Ingram announced the Inquiry into events at Kerelaw (Nov 2007):
“Cathy Jamieson (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab): As the minister is aware, along with Kathleen Marshall and Sheriff Alan Finlayson, I sat as a member of a previous inquiry into abuse in residential care in Edinburgh. From his discussions with Kathleen Marshall in her new role as Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, he is also aware that that inquiry made a crucial point about the need to listen to the voices of the children. Further to the minister’s comment that the need for independent advocates is an issue that he will bring to the attention of the inquiry’s chair, may I respectfully suggest that something slightly stronger is needed? Will he assure us that children’s voices will be heard and that the appropriate arrangements will be put in place to ensure that the inquiry team includes someone who has direct personal experience of being in the residential care system?”

“The minister said, if I heard him correctly, that 10 people from Kerelaw are still on the provisional list (DWCL). When will those cases be completed and dealt with?”

Adam Ingram replied, “I will answer the final point first: the cases are being dealt with currently. However, a problem in dealing with the aftermath of Kerelaw was the nature of the investigations  and of the evidence that was compiled . That is causing some difficulty to the people who are dealing with the listing.” (my emphasis, AW)


Not so strong then on the competences of the Glasgow City Council staff involved in the investigation (over three years), and a slight problem with the “EVIDENCE” which is “CAUSING SOME DIFFICULTY” !!

YES, MINISTER! Precisely. Take it from here, Professor Eddie Frizzell!  Perhaps Eddie Stobart would have had better prospects of reaching some meaningful conclusions!

Leon Fulcher remarks,

What a wonderful piece of satire Mr Forrest!  Pure genius!  Well done.