In the early weeks of his inquiry into the case of Bailey Gwynne, the 16-year-old boy who was stabbed to death by a fellow pupil of Cults Academy, there were rumours that Andrew Lowe, the child protection expert appointed to conduct the review, was not receiving the degree of co-operation that he might have expected and to which he was entitled.
It was not that Mr Lowe was being actively impeded in the course of his duties. That would be going too far. But perhaps – so the rumours went – there were limits to his ease of access to important case papers.
The suggestion that some of those involved may not have been wildly keen on his investigation has hardly been dispelled by the handling of his 17,000-word report on the chronology of the case, the background of the killer, the relationship between the two boys, and the role of the school.
After Mr Lowe had finished his work, there was a delay of a month in doing anything with it. Last week, his findings and recommendations were finally published. But the 17,000-word narrative? We’re still waiting for that. We may go on waiting for some time.
The official explanation of the three co-sponsors – Aberdeen City Council, NHS Grampian and Police Scotland – is that the full report cannot be released for 'legal and data protection reasons’. It seems that the content is terribly sensitive: so sensitive that some of the parties whose permission is required prior to publication are not responding with the alacrity that the distressing circumstances should have demanded.
The fact that much of the material is sensitive should not have come as a surprise to any of these parties (which may include Police Scotland). It should have been anticipated and dealt with. The judicial process was completed as long ago as March with the conviction and subsequent detention of the killer. What, then, are those 'legal and data protection’ issues? There is such a thing as redaction: anything deemed somehow inappropriate for public consumption could have been blacked at any stage in the last month.
Mr Lowe himself has confided in the Evening Express, Aberdeen, that he is 'frustrated’ by the delay and that he wants the public to be able to read his work. As well he might, if for no other reason than that his findings and recommendations are pretty meaningless without the narrative to back them up.
For the moment, then, the full story remains untold. And there is one particularly mystifying feature of the case that one hopes Mr Lowe’s report – if it ever sees the light of day – will resolve one way or the other. It concerns two disputed versions of an incident in the early life of the killer.
BBC Scotland reported after his conviction, but before sentencing, that in 2007, eight years before the death of Bailey Gwynne, he threw rocks at another child and that the incident resulted in the victim being treated for concussion. The victim’s parents contacted the police and the school, but – according to the couple – no effective action was taken.
Fearful that the attacker would go on to commit a far more serious crime, they got in touch with a local councillor, Marie Boulton, and their MP, Anne Begg, both of whom were sympathetic. 'They were not satisfied that their children were going to be safe going to school’, said Anne Begg.
This apparently well-sourced BBC report had a potentially serious implication. It raised the possibility that, if the police and the school had taken appropriate action at the time, Bailey Gwynne might still be alive. At the sentencing hearing, however, the killer’s defence counsel insisted that ‘media reports’ that the killer had been involved in an earlier incident were 'quite markedly inaccurate’.
At his press conference, Mr Lowe agreed that some incident of the sort had occurred – while casting doubt on its significance 'in relation to later events'. We can only guess what this means; without the narrative there is no way of understanding or evaluating Mr Lowe's statement or the claim in court that the BBC report was 'quite markedly inaccurate’.
Meanwhile, it is disappointing to learn that the killer – whose counsel assured the court that he 'genuinely recognised’ the gravity of his crime and genuinely repented of it – refused Mr Lowe’s request for an interview. Clearly the rehabilitation of the offender remains a work in progress.