Linked below is a summary of a report which investigated the conduct of a Senior Social Worker named Sean Bell. He worked for City of Edinburgh Council for over 30 years until his death in 2020.
When he died it became public knowledge that he had been suspended from the Council and was facing serious criminal charges. The independent investigation triggered by the Council sought to understand how it had dealt with any allegations made against Sean Bell, and whether or not they related to his position as a Social Worker.
On Wednesday I spoke to the independent legal team leading the investigation, and read the full 145 page unredacted report (reportedly based on 15,000 pages of evidence). I read this report in the knowledge that Sean Bell has died, so can’t respond to the charges made against him.
Nonetheless, the full report (and the summary is linked below) makes clear that Sean Bell had been accused of bullying, abusive behaviour and misuse of public funds in the workplace, and was not considered by his colleagues to have a positive attitude towards women.
While the Inquiry Team heard from two female CEC employees who spoke positively about SB’s manner, most of the women interviewed by the Inquiry Team were disparaging about him. 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.’… ….Words such as ‘lecherous’ and ‘predatory’ were used by witnesses when asked to describe SB’s behaviour around women in the workplace.Official Inquiry Report
In addition to this he has been accused of assault, domestic abuse, sexual assault and rape. The alleged events took place over a number of years outside the workplace, but did involve Council staff.
Survivors of these alleged attacks made repeated credible formal and informal complaints against Sean Bell over a number of years, often with the direct support of friends and colleagues. It’s suggested that Sean Bell used his status within the Council to systematically undermine and discredit those women making allegations against him.
He put a lot of energy into his public and professional persona while the reality was very different. The emotional and psychological abuse continued for many years after. It’s been difficult to watch him reach such a senior position in the Social Work Department and hard to believe that none of his colleagues ever saw glimpses of who he really was.Survivor (quote from media report)
Let me be clear, even where events take place outside the Council people should still take seriously criminal allegations made against staff. The investigation found occasions where Sean Bell’s line manger should have taken a more formal approach, or perhaps even referred the matter to the Police. Keep in mind that all of these people are well versed in how abusers are able to hide their tracks, and evade being held to account. They also know that abusers should not be working with vulnerable people.
It appears that, despite the fact that Sean Bell was trusted to support vulnerable people, an “old boys’ network” within the Council (which he was a member of) sought to deal with the matter informally.
One witness told the Inquiry Team that complaining about SB’s conduct was futile as he was protected by ‘the old boys’ network.’Official Inquiry Report
My mum also went to them and asked if they knew what he’d done to me. The response was just that Sean was sorry.Survivor (quote from media report)
After many years of being side-lined and discredited, one of the survivors of Sean Bell’s alleged abuse made a credible allegation again. This time she was listened to and supported, and the Police were called. The case against Sean Bell was so strong that criminal charges were brought forward after just a few days.
When I read the full report I found it unbelievable because it appeared to be a textbook example of abuse – A man charged with protecting vulnerable people using his power and influence to harm the lives of others, and take away their dignity, credibility and self-respect. He appears to have been protected by is own arrogance, and people who appear to have put personal loyalty before helping vulnerable people.
I’m angry that his death means that Sean Bell won’t face charges in court, but I am glad that the survivors of his alleged abuse will not have to face him again. My anger is balanced, however, by my respect for the brave women who where unwilling to stay quiet, and for the social worker who acted quickly to get the police involved.
The report is linked below and will be debated in Full Council next week. It contains quite sickening allegations which may upset some, particularly those with of experience violent or sex based abuse. Please remember that Rape Crisis and Edinburgh Women’s Aid are there to help.
Update – 29-10-21
Yesterday in Full Council we debated the investigation into Sean Bell, a Council Social Worker accused of verbal abuse, violent abuse, sexual abuse, and rape. We had a chance to question Susanne Tanner QC FCIArb who led the investigation and Andrew Kerr (the Council’s Chief Executive). My questions focussed on the “old boys’ network” in the Council, and why the Council’s policies are so deficient. The mood was dark, and a further report on the culture in the Council is due in December. We also learned that only 34 of Edinburgh’s 63 Councillors attended the many sessions to read the full report, and one of those that did attend acted unprofessionally and shouted at the legal team – ironic given that Bell was accused of verbal abuse. Full debate here: