“I regret to advise that I am offering you my resignation as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, with immediate effect. I trust you will accept this decision.”
Dame Lowell later released a full statement, as follows:
“I announce with regret my decision to resign as chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, effective from today.
When I was first approached through the British High Commissioner in Wellington in late 2014, and asked to consider taking up the role, I had to think long and hard about it. After carefully discussing the matter with the home secretary and her officials and seeking the counsel of those people in New Zealand whose opinions mattered to me, I decided that I should undertake the role, given my relevant experience and track record in the area. It was, however, an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family.
The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.
While it has been a struggle in many respects, I am confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard. I have nothing but the greatest of respect for the victims and survivors and have particularly enjoyed working with the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel which I established.”
The Inquiry had begun public proceedings at the end of July with a series of preliminary hearings in relation to seven investigations: Lord Janner, the Anglican Church, Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale, Lambeth Council, the Roman Catholic Church, Protection of Children Outside the UK, and Accountability and Reparations.
Dame Lowell is the third Chair of an Inquiry that has barely got off the ground. The original Chair was Baroness Butler-Sloss, appointed on 8 July 2014: she stepped down on 14 July after claims that the fact she was the sister of the late Lord Havers, Attorney General and later Lord Chancellor at the time of some of the abuse that led to subsequent allegations, cast doubts on her impartiality. Fiona Woolf, a former President of the Law Society of England & Wales, was appointed Chair on 5 September 2014 but resigned on 31 October, after suggestions that her social relationship with Lord Brittan, who had been Home Secretary in 1984 when ministers were handed a dossier on alleged high-profile paedophiles, compromised her position as Chair.
Dame Lowell’s appointment was announced on 4 February 2015. However, she, in turn. has been the subject of criticism, most recently from Joshua Rozenberg, who argued that her proposed inquiry into whether or not allegations of child sexual abuse against the late Lord Janner were “well founded” was misguided. In short, he accused her of “coming pretty close to breaking the statutory ban on determining Janner’s civil or criminal liability”. Sean O’Neill suggested in The Times on 30 July (£) that there were “fears in legal circles that Justice Goddard is insufficiently familiar with British law and institutions to lead an inquiry of this scale and complexity”.
Whether the criticisms are well-founded or not, the fact is that Dame Lowell has resigned and the new Home Secretary is now looking for Chair No. 4.