Abuse survivors welcome probe move
Dozens of child abuse survivors have welcomed Theresa May’s indication that a panel conducting a troubled inquiry into historical abuse could be disbanded in order for a new and more powerful body to take over.
The Home Secretary has written to the panel’s members setting out her plan for the inquiry to be given statutory powers, including the ability to compel witnesses to give evidence.
The move has left members of the panel “devastated” that they could face being removed from the inquiry, but more than 60 victims and their representatives have backed a proposal which could see the investigation start again from scratch.
The Government’s child abuse inquiry panel could be disbanded to make way for a more powerful body
Mrs May told MPs last week that she wanted the inquiry – which is without a chairman following the resignation of two previous appointees – to be given extra powers.
That could mean waiting for a chairman to be appointed for the inquiry panel, who would then request statutory powers, or setting up a new inquiry panel under statutory terms.
The third option of a Royal Commission – which many prefer – would not have the powers of a statutory inquiry under the 2005 Inquiries Act and would be ”legally more risky”.
Previous appointments as inquiry chairwomen, Fiona Woolf and Baroness Butler-Sloss, resigned following claims about their perceived closeness to establishment figures.
Lady Butler-Sloss stood down amid questions over the role played by her late brother, Lord Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s.
Mrs Woolf, the then-lord mayor of London, resigned in October following a barrage of criticism over her links t o former home secretary Lord Brittan.
In her letter to the panel members, reported by the investigative website Exaro News, Mrs May said: “I am currently considering these options and I appreciate this has implications for members of the panel.”
In a reply to Mrs May obtained by Exaro, panel member Sharon Evans of the child safety group Dot Com Children’s Foundation said: “I, like other members of the panel, feel devastated at the prospect of the independent inquiry being halted as it has been made clear to us ‘off the record’ that the panel will be stood down in the New Year.”
But, in a letter seen by Sky News, survivors have written to the Home Secretary welcoming the development and setting out their demands for the new investigation.
The document, signed by more than 60 victims and representatives who wish to remain anonymous, calls for a statutory inquiry to be declared, a public announcement that the existing panel will be scrapped and replaced on a “transparent fit-for-purpose” basis and the appointment of an inquiry chair who has “demonstrable experience and ability in challenging the establishment”.
It reads: “Following the mistakes of the last six months, we consider your proposals as an opportunity to place the inquiry on to a firm footing whereby it can focus on dealing with organised and institutional abuse and cover-ups at the highest levels.
“It is important that the inquiry is centred on bringing perpetrators before the courts, holding those that have failed in their professional duty or covered up allegations or been obstructive to account and delivering justice for survivors.”
The Home Office did not confirm whether Mrs May was minded to disband the child abuse panel, but said she was committed to ensuring the inquiry had the confidence of survivors.
A spokesman said: “The Home Secretary is determined that appalling cases of child sexual abuse should be exposed so that perpetrators face justice and the vulnerable are protected.
“She is absolutely committed to ensuring the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has the confidence of survivors.
“The Home Secretary is also clear that we have to balance the need to make progress with the need to get this right.”
Shadow home office minister Diana Johnson said: ” The Home Secretary should be utterly ashamed of the process she has overseen.
“It is now five months since she first announced she would be setting up a wider child abuse inquiry, following pressure from campaign groups and Labour.
“We are now in a position where there is no chair and no panel, while no work has been done on examining the horrible crimes of the past or into the flaws in the current child protections system.
“Theresa May needs to take responsibility for the utter failure to get this vital work off the ground over such a long period.
“This is not the first time inquiries have been held on difficult and sensitive issues. Neither the Hillsborough inquiry led by the Bishop of Liverpool nor the Bichard inquiry into child protection was mired in this chaos and confusion.
“The Home Secretary has failed time and time again to set up an inquiry which commands the confidence of the public.
“It seems she must now go back to the drawing board – while five months that could have been used to listen to survivors and to start uncovering the truth have been wasted.”