Many complaints from children being abused at Kerelaw were written off as lies, it was admitted yesterday.

Glasgow City Council last week said it believed a hard core of around 40 members of staff at the school had physically or sexually abused children in their care.

Yesterday it admitted that many of the victims had reported their experiences to social workers or other professionals but had been ignored.

Glasgow ran the residential unit in Stevenston, Ayrshire, until it was shut amid a police and council abuse investigation early last year. Twenty workers have been reported to the procurator-fiscal on abuse and other charges.

David Comley, the authority's head of social work, yesterday told councillors there had been a failure of management at the school and in the council itself and that worrying reports from children had not been heeded.

Mr Comley said: "It is clear in retrospect that a number of children had made complaints about their treatment in Kerelaw. These complaints, for whatever reason, have not been taken appropriately seriously enough.

"What tended to happen was that complaints have been written off as being likely to be untrue without any proper investigation having been carried out. We need to be extremely careful about not doing that."

He added: "Nobody seems to have looked at the overall picture and said there seems to be a systematic problem here'."

Councils routinely receive complaints from unhappy children in care, many of which turn out to be untrue or malicious. However, Mr Comley said, should not mean that they are not investigated.

Mr Comley, who will retire this year, was speaking at a meeting of one of the new committees set up by the council to develop and scrutinise policy after the controversial introduction of cabinet-style government last year.

One newly appointed member of the committee was SNP councillor Phil Greene, a former child rights officer who has investigated major abuse scandals in England and Wales. He was unable to ask most of the questions he had prepared after discussions were cut short by Patricia Chalmers, the committee's Labour convener. "The dialogue has come to an end," she said, talking over him.