Scots council slammed for failing to act against sex-abusing social worker

A £1million public inquiry has heavily criticised a council for failing to take action on a sex-abusing social worker.

Staff within Edinburgh City Council were said to be aware of multiple complaints about Sean Bell.

But because he was seen as the “golden boy” in the eyes of bosses, victims feared not being believed if they complained and worried about a backlash.

His inappropriate behaviour was described as an “open secret” in the communities and families department, where he was senior manager.

Bell, 59, ended up being charged by police in July last year for historical sexual abuse after a victim came forward. Just over a month later he took his own life at Arthur’s Seat.

A report into Bell’s abuse at Edinburgh City Council by leading QC Susanne Tanner was revealed to councillors on Friday.

Susanne Tanner QC

It found one senior manager, Andy Jeffries, who quit in August, was so blinded to Bell’s conduct that he sent out a newsletter after he’d gone off work following the police investigation, saying staff were sending him “warm wishes”.

The report said: “Andy Jeffries’s conduct was bad judgment on his part, given his state of knowledge, and perhaps reflects a wider theme in this report that, regardless of the accusations and allegations levelled at Sean Bell, he was the one who was generally believed and supported by senior management rather than the accusers or witnesses.”

Edinburgh City Council called in the QC to carry out the internal investigation after a huge amount of concern was raised about Bell’s conduct following his death.

About 100 witnesses came forward to give evidence.

The inquiry looked at formal allegations made by three women concerning sexual and physical assault by Bell.

Scots council slammed for failing to act against sex-abusing social worker
Social worker Sean Bell took his own life on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh after being charged with sexual offences.

The report said: “The inquiry team has been made aware of several other individuals who suffered some form of abuse at the hands of Sean Bell during the years in which he was employed by the organisation.

“This includes sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, ­physical abuse and verbal abuse.”

It added: “He was described as a ‘bully’ and, in respect of his general conduct around women in the workplace, he was labelled as a ‘sleaze’ and a ‘dirty creep’. According to several witnesses, Sean Bell was ‘a lady’s man’ and would always ‘try it on’.”

They said “several alarming incidents” led to Bell being questioned by his line manager but the inquiry team were “surprised” to find that his HR record was clear. And they said the council’s “failure to take action to investigate matters at those times is extremely difficult to understand”.

Presenting the report to councillors on Friday, chief executive Andrew Kerr said: “The council notes the serious shortcomings of some of its employees and former employees that have been identified by the inquiry.

“Formal letters have been sent to survivors who suffered abuse, offering deepest sympathies.”

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