The nightmare of a Scottish politician wrongly accused


by Kenneth Roy

Early this year, the former deputy leader of the SNP, Jim Fairlie, sent me a copy of his book, ‘Unbreakable Bonds’, with a long covering letter. It was my intention to write about this book, and the personally devastating events it describes, particularly as it had received next to no coverage elsewhere.

Having read the book, I found it was beyond me. ‘Unbreakable Bonds’ moved from my desk to the shelves behind it before being dumped in a cupboard from which it was retrieved only yesterday. I have felt guilty about this ever since; I had given Jim Fairlie an undertaking that I would ‘do something’ and instead did nothing.

There were two reasons for doing nothing. The book concerns people who are still alive, including specialists at Murray Royal Hospital in Perth, social workers, senior staff in a local authority. I am surprised, given some of its content, that it found a publisher at all. Mr Fairlie challenges these people to sue him; there is nothing he would like more than to face his accusers in a civil court. They have not sued him and with the passage of time seem unlikely to do so, despite the publication of this indictment. But they too have certain rights. So I hesitated.

The second reason is harder to explain. I discovered that, although the book is of considerable value as a case study and social document, it had defeated me as an assignment. I hadn’t the faintest notion where I would go with any piece I attempted to write.

Yet, when I re-opened the book after half a year, I wondered how I could ever have been so dumbly uncomprehending.

The facts are these. In October 1995, Jim Fairlie was summoned from his office to a meeting at the house of one of his sons, there to be confronted by almost all of his immediate family, including his wife Kay, and told that he had been sexually abusing his daughter Katrina for years; that he had been running a paedophile ring in Perth and Dundee for years; and that ‘They know all about you, dad’. Jim Fairlie fled that night to a B&B, consumed a bottle of whisky, and collapsed into oblivion.

That was the start of the nightmare. A life had been destroyed in an instant – as lives often are. For 16 years there has been no respite and very little peace of mind as he has fought, not only to clear his name, but to hold the authorities to account for the psychiatric treatment his sick daughter received, its shattering consequences, and what he sees as a disgraceful cover-up. He is in his early 70s now, and I suspect that he will go on fighting until the grave.

At the medical centre of this story is a treatment of mental illness known as Recovered Memory Therapy (RMT), which supposedly produces flashbacks of experiences that the patient has forgotten. To say that RMT is not widely accepted as a therapy would be an under-statement; it has been largely discredited. But it was the therapy undergone by Katrina Fairlie, with hallucinatory effects that damned her own father and implicated a number of other innocent people in Scottish life.

It is particularly disturbing – but not in the least surprising – to learn of the chilly detachment with which the Mental Welfare Commission, at a time when Katrina was suffering terribly, dismissed the family.

Katrina has contributed several chapters to the book, the whole family having been reunited in love and support for Jim Fairlie. She writes of her treatment:

I was regularly told that I was so ill that I might never get well enough to function as a normal person. Had I been prepared to listen and continue to allow the psychiatrists to keep me in therapy, I am convinced I would not have survived. During my time under their care in Murray Royal Hospital, a period of 15 months, there were 66 incidents when I self-harmed or attempted suicide…Since discharging myself from their tender mercies, there has not been a single instance of either self-harming or attempted suicide.

She adds:

I feel an enormous sense of betrayal, by the health service, the legal profession and the justice system. Perhaps the most appropriate question that should be asked of me is, why would I not speak out?

The psychiatric treatment of Katrina is only part of the story. The greater part, which impinges on the wider public interest, is the continuing failure of various publicly accountable bodies to acknowledge that a serious error was made in this case. No one who reads the extracts from official correspondence and records republished in Mr Fairlie’s book can fail to be impressed by the closing of ranks and protection of vested interests, month after month, year after year, which would have demoralised most people and worn them out in utter dejection. It is remarkable how few, confronted by such intense pain, expressed any fellow feeling. The absence of humanity is perhaps the book’s most striking feature.

It is particularly disturbing – but not in the least surprising – to learn of the chilly detachment with which the Mental Welfare Commission, at a time when Katrina was suffering terribly, dismissed the family. This is an organisation with which I have had unhappy dealings myself. When the Scottish Review started sniffing around its far from impeccable affairs a couple of years ago, almost 400 names – the names of its panel members, who have the power to section vulnerable people – suddenly disappeared from its website. After a tremendous fuss on our part, the names were finally reinstated.

I formed a poor view of the organisation then and I have an even poorer view of it now. When Jim Fairlie begged it to intervene in his daughter’s case, the commission’s final word on the subject was: ‘Thank you for your further letter and enclosures of 8th August 1996’. He heard nothing more: ever. What sort of behaviour is this by a public body? Sadly, it is quite typical of his experiences.

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece challenging the lazy assumption that the people in charge of affairs in Scotland are by nature any more benevolent than those south of the border. For compelling evidence that guilds and elites operate in Scotland much as they do anywhere else, read this book.

‘Unbreakable Bonds: They Know About You Dad’ is published by Austin & Macauley (£9.99)


Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review.