Outbreak of amnesia in Glasgow Labour group

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by Jo Cargill

A senior member of staff at Glasgow City Council has told Newsnet Scotland that the Labour councillors who were present at the hearing with disgraced Councillor William O’Rourke claim they ‘can’t remember’ what was said at the meeting.

Councillor O’Rourke was removed from his positions on the Police Board and Appeals Committee and suspended from the Labour Party following revelations in a Sunday newspaper about his suggestion that a nine year old rape victim ‘wanted it to happen’.  He continues to serve as Councillor for Pollock.

However senior Labour councillors James Scanlan and JamesTodd are under pressure to explain why they did nothing after hearing the comments at the same meeting.  Opposition parties on the council want to know when the Labour leadership first became aware of O’Rourke’s comments and have demanded an investigation into the role played by Scanlan and Todd.  Rape Crisis said O’Rourke’s comments were “beyond belief” and amounted to a public official blaming victims and promoting rape myths.

During the personnel appeals committee hearing the case of a care worker dismissed for allegedly having sex with the child, O’Rourke is said to have asked if the girl “wanted it to happen” because no force was used and that she was not a “typical innocent nine year old”.  He also made a comment about the child’s mother being a prostitute and went on what the Police Officer described as a ‘rant’ about promiscuous children and the need to lower the age of sexual consent.

Baillies Jim Scanlan and Jim Todd attended the hearing on 11th February but O’Rourke’s comments were only made public after a Strathclyde Police Officer who was a witness at the hearing reported concerns and an official complaint was lodged with the Standards Commission for Scotland, which regulates the behaviour of politicians.  O’Rourke was then suspended from the Labour party after the report was leaked to the media.

According to the council insider the other two council officers who were present at the hearing have verified the account of the meeting as reported by the Strathclyde Police Officer in her complaint to the Standards Commission and senior councillors Scanlan and Todd appear to have ‘closed ranks’ to protect O’Rourke.  Todd is also a member of the Children and Families policy development committee.

Opposition parties at Glasgow City Council said serious questions still have to be answered about Labour’s handling of the situation.  SNP leader of the opposition, Councillor James Dornan said, 

“The committee meeting where these comments were made was held last month and several other Labour councillors were present.  When was Councillor Matheson first made aware of Cllr O’Rourke’s comments and by whom?  If Cllr Matheson knew about this shocking event, why was no action taken before the story broke in the media at the weekend?‪  If he was not made aware of these comments why did the Labour councillors present not inform him or the Group Whip about these comments?”

Paul Coleshill, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Glasgow wrote to the Council asking that Councillor O’Rourke be suspended from his roles on the Police Board and Appeals Committee pending a full investigation.  “If what he is reported to have said is the case, then it’s totally inappropriate and untenable.  The other two councillors who were present should be questioned as part of a full investigation.  If I had heard the alleged comments from my colleagues I would have been shocked and challenged them about it.”

Councillor James Scanlon said, “The Standards Commission is now investigating and there is still the possibility of an appeal to an employment tribunal in this case.  I do not wish to say anything further while these two matters are on-going.”

Last month Bill Aitken, a Conservative MSP, was forced to resign his convenorship of Holyrood’s Justice Committee after he suggested that a woman gang raped in Glasgow City Centre might have been a prostitute.

Sandy Brindely from Rape Crisis Scotland said O’Rourke’s comments highlighted the responsibility of elected officials to tackle misconceptions about rape, “With two examples in such quick succession of public officials promoting rape myths and blaming victims the need for public education on these issues has never been more necessary or clearer.”

“One of the main reasons that rapists and other perpetrators of sexual assault can remain so consistently invisible and unaccountable for their crimes is that so many myths persist in relation to their victims.  The suggestion that children “invite” or “incite” rape and that a nine-year-old is in any sense capable of giving consent or could in any way be responsible for this appalling crime is beyond belief.

“The very least we owe to our children is protection not only from sexual predators but from revolting, unfounded and damaging imputations of the sort expressed by Councillor O’Rourke.  All elected representatives have a public duty in addition to the responsibility we all bear as human beings to combat this sort of thing, not to perpetuate it.”