Over 60 families bereaved by crime in Scotland sign open letter calling for change in law to protect child victims of murder

19 January, 2024

Victim Support Scotland (VSS) today (18 January 2024) released an open letter, signed by 65 people who have been bereaved by crime, calling on First Minister Humza Yousaf and Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs Angela Constance to grant automatic anonymity to child victims of murder.

Currently under Scottish Law, children who have died as a result of crime and who are under the age of 18 lose their right to anonymity. This can cause significant trauma for families during criminal trials, with excessive detail published about the crime often including sexual elements.

VSS highlighted the experiences of 65 people – sisters, brothers, wives, cousins, stepfathers, partners, mothers, fathers, nieces, stepdaughters, ex-partners, aunts, grandmothers – who have all lost a family member as a result of crime, and the significant and ongoing trauma that comes with it. They are calling for the Scottish Government to safeguard the surviving siblings of children who have died from media attention and online content when the child’s identity is in the public domain. Anonymising children who have been murdered will serve to protect families from trauma, and surviving brothers and sisters from additional scrutiny in the press and on social media.

The change in legislation to protect the identity of children who have died has been lodged by Ruth Maguire MSP to be considered by the Education and Young People Committee at Scottish Parliament, which is leading on the Children (Care and Justice) Bill. The Stage 2 debate will take place on Thursday 25 January.

Kate Wallace, Chief Executive of Victim Support Scotland, said:

“People affected by crime consistently tell us about the impact on them and their children and the volume of detailed information available publicly following the death of a family member.

“We firmly believe that victims under the age of 18 who die as a result of crime should be given the same rights and protections as a living victim under the age of 18 who is the victim of another crime, for example sexual abuse or assault.

“Surviving siblings of these victims have a right to a childhood. They have a right to a private, family life. We are calling on the Scottish Government to do better by affording an automatic right to anonymity to children and young people who die as a result of a crime, so that their surviving siblings can live their lives free of unnecessary intrusion.

“I urge the Humza Yousaf, Angela Constance and the Scottish Government to take action, listen to families who have lost loved ones to murder, and offer better protection to all children connected to these cases.”

A parent who lost their child to murder, said:

“When my child died as a result of murder, every detail of their life, their siblings and school was in the public domain. This was put under further microscopic detail during the trial, while the perpetrator was afforded significant privacy and protection.

“The media intrusion which followed my child’s death further compounded the trauma I was already experiencing. My children cannot be children because of the constant fear of what the media will print next. It still goes on to this day, and I am constantly worried when and how my other children will find out more distressing details about their sibling’s death.

“I have had several articles and piece of inaccurate information removed from the mainstream press and social media, but the coverage feels never-ending. Every day I am constantly reminded about the traumatic nature of my child’s death. This could all have been prevented had my child’s name not automatically been released to the public when they died. It often feels like the world has more rights to my child than I do.

“I do not think it is right that children lose their rights when they die from crime. If the Scottish Government cares about the next generation, they will make these changes we are all calling for.”

Given the significant traumatic nature of death as a result of crime, VSS encourages the Scottish Government to do everything within their power to protect surviving siblings and their families from the constant volume of information and detail in the public domain.

The current Children (Care and Justice) and Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform Bills both include a section on anonymity and an opportunity to strengthen current laws.

Victim Support Scotland is calling for the following changes:

  1. Extend the current legislation regarding anonymity to include children who have died as a result of crime, to protect the victim’s brothers and sisters where they are also children.
  2. Extend the current legislation so that content already available that identifies a child who has died as a result of crime can be removed.
  3. Provide a way families can choose to waive their right to anonymity if they later decide to name their loved one.