ITS mission when it was launched nearly two years ago was to ‘shine a light in the dark corners of the past’.

But Scotland’s child abuse inquiry had a troubled start after its first chairman Susan O’Brien QC quit amid allegations of inappropriate remarks.

As costs began to spiral — the current price-tag is nearly £8million, up 40 per cent in three months — scepticism grew over whether the statutory probe was worthwhile.

Victims, still looking for financial redress, point out some survivors have died since the inquiry began in October 2015.

They resent the escalating costs, and the sense of secrecy that surrounds them: while they are published on a quarterly basis, there is no breakdown of where the money has gone.

Some observers believe it would be more logical simply to give the cash being spent on the inquiry to the survivors now.

This criticism is understandable, and there is little doubt that the SNP made a hash of gaining the trust of victims.

But the truth is that the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) is slowly and methodically uncovering the greatest scandal of our times — and so far has been worth every penny of public spending.

While it is crucial to ensure that expenditure, which is certain to rise further, does not get out of control, the SCAI has defied its critics by attempting to peel back layers of institutional distortion and cover-up to reveal horrifying truths.

That is a difficult process because so many official records seem to have been lost or shredded by the organisations accused of abusing children.

Perhaps more valuable, however, is the way in which the inquiry has held to account those bodies which admit they presided over abusive regimes.

They have been brought before SCAI chairman Lady Smith, a High Court judge, to apologise to their victims.

Lady Smith has proved a formidable and forensic inquisitor, frequently questioning testimony that appears dubious or incoherent.

I have watched as — day after day in an anonymous office block in Haymarket, Edinburgh — the current heads of organisations, several of them Catholic religious orders, offered admissions and apologies for historical wrong-doing.

Granted, it was easy to be sceptical when a phalanx of costly lawyers, peering at laptops, sat behind desks, poring over the written and verbal evidence.

The only people who weren’t in the room, I reflected, were those who had caused the inquiry to exist in the first place, the actual abusers who decided at some point in their lives to prey upon children in their care.

Lady Smith, chairman of the abuse inquiry

The worth of these public confessions may be debatable for many — but for some victims they have been invaluable.

James Buckley, 72, of East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, was abused in a home run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Aberdeen in the 1950s.

The Catholic religious order admitted at the inquiry that it is facing more than 400 allegations of abuse from former residents.

Retired printer Mr Buckley still suffers health problems as a result of medical neglect as a child, but he was clear that the order’s public apology had deeply affected him.

The most striking testimony has come from Catholic Church in Scotland, which admitted some paedophile priests were sent away to be ‘fixed’ at a mysterious hospital in Ireland.

It has also alleged that in some cases prosecutors effectively turned a blind eye to claims of abuse by clergy, if they could be assured that the alleged culprits were receiving treatment and counselling.

The Crown Office was unaware of these claims and has said it will co-operate with the inquiry in ‘looking at the issue’.

True, during this first phase of the inquiry there have been some ‘weasel word’ apologies and legalistic attempts to dodge responsibility, as John Scott, QC, representing some of the survivors, has pointed out.

At one hearing, Mr Scott said: ‘The belated, grudging and legalistic attitude of pseudo-apology offered by some organisations has had the effect of causing further damage.’

In one extraordinary example, Lady Smith criticised nuns for denying historical abuse in their convent-run school just days after it emerged a man was convicted of horrific crimes at the institution.

Brian Dailey was found guilty of a catalogue of physical and sexual child abuse throughout the 1970s and 1980s at a court hearing on June 29, and jailed for 10 years last week (JULY 27).

Among the charges found proven against the now 70-year-old Dailey were two outlining horrific, invasive abuse of children at Edinburgh’s Ladymary Residential School, run by the Good Shepherd Sisters.

But speaking at the SCAI, David Anderson, representing the nuns, said it was the sisters’ position not to ‘give any retrospective acknowledgement of abuse’.

The astonishing claim led to a stern rebuke from Lady Smith, who asked whether this remained so ‘despite the conviction of somebody who was working at the Ladymary School’.

Sisters Anne Josephine Carr and Rosemary Kean, of the Good Shepherd Sisters, gave evidence at the inquiry on June 15.

Just under a week before the trial of Dailey began, Sister Kean told the inquiry: ‘We have no awareness, we have no knowledge of abuse having taken place at any time and we certainly have no records.’

Mr Anderson said the sisters had not been told about the prosecution and told Lady Smith that the response from the order may need to be ‘updated’ in light of the conviction.

Some of the ‘dark corners of the past’ have been exposed to the fiercest of scrutiny by the inquiry, which covers allegations of abuse of children in care within living memory — with more revelations to come.

Public evidence resumes on October 31, when attention will once again return to religious orders.

But a host of top private schools will also feature in future phases of the inquiry, including Gordonstoun School in Moray, Prince Charles’ alma mater, and prestigious Fettes College in Edinburgh, where Tony Blair was a pupil.

The first phase of the inquiry has established beyond doubt that the state placed children in the care of external organisations whose employees then went on to abuse children.

A legal time-bar is to be lifted allowing more victims to sue over historical abuse allegations — one of the genuine achievements of Holyrood in recent times.

But some victims rightly accuse ministers of ‘dragging their feet’ on compensating survivors.

The amount spent on the inquiry so far and the final bill — likely to be far higher — are the inescapable price the state, and therefore taxpayers, must pay for past wrongs.

But ministers — and indeed the institutions responsible for abuse — must also ensure that the people who suffered in their care are adequately compensated.

While apologies are vital, a refusal to provide proper redress will merely compound the misery of those whose childhoods were so cruelly robbed from them.

Home Affairs Editor, columnist, leader writer, Scottish Daily Mail. Twitter: @GrahamGGrant Facebook: @sdmnewspaper