Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – yet another update

On Monday, in reply to an Urgent Question from Lisa Nandy (Wigan, Lab), the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, gave a long answer on the remit, organisation, budget and staffing of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, as follows:

“I know that the whole House will agree with me when I say that the work of the inquiry is absolutely vital. Victims and survivors must have justice, and we must learn the lessons of the past. The inquiry’s remit is to examine whether institutions in England and Wales have failed to protect children from sexual abuse. It is an independent body, established under the Inquiries Act 2005. The Home Office is the sponsor Department, and I am responsible for the terms of reference, appointing the chair and panel members, and providing funding. Last year, the inquiry had a budget of £17.9 million and underspent by over £3 million. The appointment of staff and the day-to-day running are matters for the chair.

I appointed Professor Alexis Jay as chair of the inquiry on 11 August, following the unexpected resignation of Dame Lowell Goddard on 4 August, and I am aware of questions around the reasons for that resignation. Let me spell out the facts. On 29 July, the secretary to the inquiry met my permanent secretary and reported concerns about the professionalism and competence of the chair. My permanent secretary encouraged the inquiry to raise those matters with the chair. He reported this meeting to me the same day. My permanent secretary also met members of the inquiry panel on 4 August. Later that day, Dame Lowell tendered her resignation to me, which I accepted. Less than a week elapsed between concerns being raised with the Home Office and Dame Lowell’s resignation. My permanent secretary’s approach was entirely appropriate for an independent body.

The second issue relates to my evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. I was asked why Dame Lowell had gone. Dame Lowell had not spoken to me about her reasons, so I relied on the letter that she had sent to the Committee. In her letter, she said that she was lonely and felt that she could not deliver, and that that was why she had stepped down. Dame Lowell has strongly refuted the allegations about her. The only way we could understand properly why she resigned would be to hear from Dame Lowell herself. To echo any further allegations, which are now likely to be the subject of legal dispute, would have been entirely inappropriate. We now owe it to the victims and survivors to get behind the inquiry in its endeavour. My own commitment to the inquiry’s work is undiminished, and I invite the House to offer its support in the same way.”

The Home Secretary emphasised that the Inquiry was independent of the Home Office and that, in order to maintain the confidence of survivors and victims, it was essential for that independence to be maintained and be seen to be maintained.

On the following day, Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of IICSA and two members of the IICSA Panel, Ivor Frank and Drusilla Sharpling, gave evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, following which the Committee heard evidence from Mark Sedwill, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office: there is an uncorrected transcript here. Perhaps the killer exchange with the members of IICSA was this:

Q40  Mr Winnick: Professor Jay, this is my last question to you. Would it not be reasonable on the part of my colleagues and myself to come to the conclusion that had Judge Goddard not resigned, it would have been very difficult in all the circumstances, given the tensions and other aspects that have come to light, for the work of the inquiry to be carried out as Parliament wishes?

Professor Jay: Of course I am sure it would have been very difficult, as you suggest, but let me say that this inquiry has always been bigger than any single person, and we would have worked—as we did—tirelessly for the sake of our common purpose and in serving the victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse.”

Evidently, relations between Dame Lowell and the members of the Panel were not entirely easy.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse – yet another update" in Law & Religion UK, 20 October 2016, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2016/10/20/independent-inquiry-into-child-sexual-abuse-yet-another-update/

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