ABUSE survivors are threatening to abandon a public inquiry into historic sexual crimes in the Scottish care system after it emerged their identities would be revealed to the alleged perpetrators.

Lady Smith, head of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, has said anyone accused of abuse, or any institution alleged to have overseen abuse, will be told the name of the person making the allegations "in the interests of fairness".

Previously the inquiry's rules appeared to suggest this was only a possibility and identification would only occur if it was in the interests of its work.

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However, last night an inquiry spokeswoman insisted there had been no change of policy and published clarification of its stance.

But this has failed to appease many who were abused in care amid fears they will face intimidation or retaliation from their abusers.

Lawyer Simon Collins, who represents In Care Abuse Survivors Scotland (Incas), has warned that many of its members will quit the inquiry if they are identified.

Lady Smith, who is the lone figure spearheading the inquiry after every one of the original panel resigned, has said that while those claiming to be abused would generally be able to expect anonymity there would be exceptions.

At a preliminary hearing on January 31, she said. "Those who are named as abusers will, if still alive, as a matter of fairness, be told the identity of the applicant who has named them, as will any organisation or institution involved."

An earlier reference was more equivocal with one anonymity order insisting the inquiry team "may share with [an accused] person what you have told us about what they did".

In a General Restriction Order the inquiry also said: "Members of the Inquiry team may disclose the identities of applicants to any persons or organisations named... in their witness statements as having been involved in any abuse ... only for the purpose of protecting any legitimate interest they may have in the work of the Inquiry."

Simon Collins, the lawyer acting for many of the victims, stressed there had been an implication that the identities of abuse victims could only be revealed in limited circumstances.

"It changes the whole ethos of the inquiry," he said. "Before the position was that anonymity would be the default, with any change discretionary and only if it was in the interests of the work of the inquiry.

"As a high court judge, Lady Smith is very aware of the difference between "we may" and "we will". It is entirely different from what was said before."

While the latest fact sheet emphasises that anonymity will still be respected when an abuser has already been convicted, or an organisation accepts children have been abused in its care, concerns remain, he said.

"Incas members do not want to withdraw from the inquiry, but some have said they won't sign statements and those who have given them want to withdraw them," he said.

Helen Holland, chair of Incas, said being identified as one of the victims alleging abuse by nuns and priests at Nazareth House in Kilmarnock in the 1960s had led to her being kicked in the street by strangers four decades later.

"They say they want to be fair to the abusers, but there's nothing fair about abuse," Ms Holland said. "I've had people phoning up saying they are taking their statements back or won't give evidence. They are too scared."

A spokesperson for the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry said: “The law requires the Inquiry to act fairly toward all parties involved in its work. In some, not all, instances this means that the Inquiry will share the applicant’s name with the organisation or person named as an abuser. Whether this has to be done will be considered on a case by case basis and it will only happen when the Inquiry must do so to be fair.”