Fred Kennedy, key figure in Children’s Panel system

Born: June 22, 1940;

Died: June 23, 2020.

FRED Kennedy, who has died the day after his 80th birthday, was for decades the dominant figure in the philosophy and practice of the Children’s Panel system in Scotland and the treatment of young offenders.

His case histories, his policy decisions and his ambitious recruitment programme provided the basis of the success of the system to this day. Many of Scotland’s children owe a huge debt to his driving ambition to protect the vulnerable.

He was born in 1940 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, and came to Scotland aged eight when his father became Plant Engineer at Albion Motors. The family stayed in Scotstoun and Kennedy became more of an enthusiast about Glasgow and its institutions than most natives. He was enthusiastic and committed to everything to which he turned his hand.

He attended Scotstoun Primary and Glasgow High School before going to Glasgow University to study law, where his contemporaries included the great debaters Donald Dewar, John Smith, Menzies ‘Ming’ Campbell and the MacCormick clan: Neil, Ian and Donald.

Even in this illustrious field, he joined the Union board and became Secretary and Convener of Debates. His own debating style was humorous and flamboyant, often producing shouts from the gallery of “We want Fred”. He had a nice line in nicknames for his associates: Neil MacCormick was “Knobbly Heid” and his brother Ian “The Toad”. Asked once whether all Glasgow students had nicknames, he replied: “No, only the ones I knew”.

While at university he met his partner for life, Eleanor Watson, who was herself a debater from the Queen Margaret Union.

After graduation, he decided not to go into private practice. He became first legal secretary to Clyde Shipbuilders’ Association, then Depute Town Clerk of Port Glasgow, moving to Renfrewshire County Council, then to the Weir Group as Secretary.

There followed the pivotal moment of his career – the establishment of a new Scottish system of youth justice and his appointment as the first Reporter to the Children’s Panel in Glasgow. It is possible to argue that the Reporter’s service would have remained peripheral to the justice system had it not been for the emergence of a Reporter with the ideas, conviction and energy of Fred Kennedy.

He was able to continue to implement his vision when he became Reporter in the new Strathclyde Region in 1983, three years after he had initially failed to be selected for the job.

Donald Dewar encouraged him to re-apply and come back to the West, after a spell as Director of Administration in Fife. His period in Fife was as successful as any Glaswegian could have been in the stubbornly independent Kingdom. He made many good friends there, and vastly improved his golf.

In Strathclyde, he was able to implement his strategy on a larger scale. With 60 per cent of Scotland’s Reporters under his charge, he laid the foundations of a comprehensive service and developed its infrastructure. He was vociferous and eloquent in his explanation and defence of the system and took his message abroad when Scotland was seen as a model for reform in other countries. He was awarded an OBE for services to children in 1991.

When, after devolution, the job description appeared for the new all-Scotland principal Reporter, it was at a salary level well below his remuneration at Strathclyde, effectively ruling out his application. His supporters, rightly or wrongly, thought it was all a ploy by those who did not share his vision of the future of the service. After early retirement, he lectured in law at Strathclyde and Glasgow University, which awarded him a fellowship in 1998.

He was a member of several golf clubs, President of GHK rugby club in 1996, a member of the British Boxing Board of Control, a social member of his local tennis club, and a stalwart of a book club. He loved company and conversation. His stories were often hilarious and devastating, though never cruel.

He was, though, often hard to interrupt. At the end of a lunch at our house, one of the guests said, “Don’t worry, we’ll go at the end of Fred’s next sentence”. He finished his story in his own good time. It was worth the wait.

He was a widely read and learned man with a prodigious memory. On several holidays in Europe and North America, we came to discover just how much he knew about everything from bird species to local politics. His wit and wisdom shall be missed. He is survived by Eleanor, his daughter Julia, his son Adam and grandchildren Freddie, Kate and Lizzie.

Matt Spicer

* Fred Kennedy: An appreciation

Despite his untimely and much regretted early retirement almost a quarter of a century ago Fred Kennedy’s rôle in the foundation and development of the Children’s Hearing System remains unsurpassed.

One need only enter the name Kennedy into the Practice pages of the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration instantly to realise the debt owed by Scotland’s children for the advances made in the protection of the vulnerable during his time in office. Despite the passage of time and the changes in legislation and organisation, as we rapidly approach the jubilee of the first children’s hearings in Scotland still no other name generates as many responses.

Arguably, at its inception, peripheral to Scottish Legal Systems the rôle of the reporter became increasingly prominent with Fred Kennedy’s vociferous championing and promotion.His confident direction of approximately 60% of the reporters in Scotland provided a sure foundation for establishing a national service.

His outstanding contribution has been acknowledged in The Kilbrandon memorial lectures, and substantial parts of the estate still used for children’s hearings in the West of Scotland are lasting monuments both to the vigour with which he pursued Strathclyde Region for additional resources and to his passionate drive to improve the service afforded the children referred.

Where Fred led, others followed willingly and enthusiastically . There was a crusading zeal matched with intellectual rigour but tempered by effusive bonhomie and generosity of spirit. A former member of the Board of Management of Glasgow University Union during a period of that club’s history described by his near contemporary the late Lord (Jimmy) Gordon as its equivalent of Periclean Athens, his ability to hold the floor and to argue with passion and persistence was honed in debates with Donald Dewar, John Smith, Menzies Campbell, Neil, Ian and Donald MacCormick and thereafter was used to promote unstintingly the cause of disadvantaged children.

Like all leaders his presence was always noted and his absence was keenly felt and Fred was definitely a leader, perhaps the epitome of public service leadership

He described, often at great length, his vision for the reporter’s service as an extended partnership. While this part of his vision may have been changed it is testament to his inspirational leadership that 25 years later there remain within the ranks of S.C.R.A. a number of staff whom he recruited. A noted feature of Fred’s recruitment interviews was the candidate’s ability to listen. Others too of his recruits still maintain active rôles in the promotion of children’s rights and welfare as safeguarders and on the shrieval bench. His leadership was rewarded with loyalty which persisted well beyond the point of his retirement and there were many conversations in the following years where references to “The Boss” were reserved for Fred rather than his successors.

Whilst it might appear a cliché it is a reasoned and reasonable speculation that Fred Kennedy was the best Principal Reporter S.C.R.A. never had. The conspiracy of circumstances which effectively precluded his application for the post of Principal Reporter remains a great shame on those who engineered it and thus disadvantaged a generation of children, panel members and staff.

Members of Fred’s staff might on occasion receive condign criticism for failures or errors but never felt unsupported or exposed if criticism came from outside the ranks of the Reporter’s Department.

He demonstrated an enviable confidence in his capacity and ability to make instant decisions and slash through the Gordian knot of bureaucracy.

An example of this was in a bar in Crieff Hydro one Friday evening after an annual meeting of the now defunct Association of Children’s Reporters which Fred supported as a means of promoting practice, learning and development beyond the bounds of Strathclyde Region. A colleague who had left Strathclyde to work in another region was bemoaning this poor choice. This was intimated to Fred who was reminded that a vacancy had only just arisen in the team in which this gentleman had previously worked.

Knowing his worth, without recourse to advertisement, application or reference, person specification or HR policies Fred simply asked him if he would like to come back to his former team, which he instantly and joyfully confirmed, and told the delighted beneficiary to call him the following Monday to put the arrangements into place. Here was leadership not simply management.

If on rare occasions his decisions were wrong or simply didn’t produce the intended result, he didn’t flinch from acknowledging his responsibility and was quick to apologise to any who were inconvenienced or adversely affected which only served to increase the confidence of those who worked for him and with him.

However fanciful it might seem I have often likened his place in the history of the Hearing system to that of Julius Caesar in the history of Rome. Each was a defining character at a critical point in the development of their respective organisations. Coincidentally, each had a daughter named Julia.

After Caesar there could be no return to the Republic; after Fred a national system for Children’s Hearings was logical and inevitable.

Both embodied inspirational leadership and instilled confidence. Both took courageous decisions and advanced their standards, literal or metaphorical, extending the bounds of their influence. He may not have built aqueducts, amphitheatres, towers or temples but the bespoke properties of The Reporter’s Department when Fred’s Office in Strathclyde Region came to an end were the envy of the rest of Scotland and it has taken almost the whole intervening quarter of a century for the rest of the country to approach a uniform standard.

Both were denied the opportunity to bring their plans and ambitions fully to fruition. He was and is sorely missed.