Edinburgh City Council is due this week (28 October) to consider a report from lawyers into how it handed complaints about children’s social worker Sean Bell, who committed suicide last year after being charged with serious sexual offences.
Chief executive Andrew Kerr commissioned an inquiry in October 2020 from Susanne Tanner QC, supported by law firm Pinsent Masons.
Ms Tanner’s report criticised council officers for not acting on complaints concerning Mr Bell’s alleged verbal, physical and sexual assaults, despite repeated disclosures from fellow employees and his relations.
Evidence to the inquiry describing Mr Bell’s behaviour as an “open secret’’ among colleagues, but no action was taken, which allowed him to continue with his misconduct and discredit those who complained.
The report found that Mr Bell was “a serial abuser” and at least three witnesses said they were repeatedly sexually assaulted by him “and there is no reason to suspect that those individuals are the only survivors of such abuse”.
It also decided, on the balance of probabilities, that Mr Bell seriously assaulted a fellow colleague in the 2010s.
The inquiry did not though find that his actions were connected to his role as a social worker, or that his alleged offences were committed against any clients.
Ms Tanner’s recommendations include reforming the council’s system of investigation relating to sexual allegations, domestic abuse, physical violence, stalking or harassment, to make sure it is independent and impartial.
She also called for mandatory training for managers on domestic abuse, coercive control and dealing with individuals making complaints of a potentially criminal nature.
Mr Kerr said: “I want to start by offering my deepest sympathies to all the survivors of Sean Bell who suffered abuse at his hands over so many years, including those that came forward to speak to the independent inquiry and those that may not have felt able to do so.”
He added: “Regrettably, it is clear from the evidence gathered that senior officers of the council did not act on extremely serious disclosures by survivors, and others. I want to thank the survivors and other participants for their courage in coming forward to give evidence to the Inquiry team. I can only imagine how traumatic that must have been for them.”
Mr Kerr noted that Ms Tanner had praised the efficiency of council officers after the disclosures last year that led to Mr Bell’s arrest, but said: “I fully appreciate that the survivors will question why this didn’t happen years earlier.”