Butler-Sloss: victims should not run child abuse inquiry
Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the appeal court judge forced to stand down as chair of the government child abuse inquiry, has said she fears the government will never be able to find an experienced figure to run the investigation, but that victims should not think they can do it.
Butler-Sloss was forced to stand down as the chair of the broad inquiry into child abuse in July because her late brother Sir Michael Havers had been attorney general in the 1980s and his actions would have been subject to investigation by the inquiry.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday she said she was adamant that the establishment had covered up its role in child abuse. “I do believe the establishment has in the past looked after itself, partly because people did not really recognise the seriousness of child abuse and they did not think it was so important, and it was important to protect members of the establishment.
“So I would want to go in with a knife and cut the whole thing open and expose it, bearing in mind of course that the views of those people are different to people today. That is a difficulty, but I don’t believe I was unsuitable to do it because as a judge with 35 years’ experience on the bench I was quite able to be independent and say that people got it wrong and be critical of them.”
She said that would be true even if some of the people she had to criticise were close to her. “That is the way I was trained,” she insisted, but added, “I absolutely understand the public do not believe it.”
Asked if the stalled inquiry will ever get under way, she said: “I worry that the victims and survivors – for who I have the most enormous sympathy, and as a judge I tried a great many child abuse cases – for them to be deciding who should be the person chairing it creates real problems.”
She suggested that anyone qualified to chair such an inquiry would have experience that would lead him or her to be branded as being part of the establishment.
“If you do not have in the past a position of authority, how are you going to be able to run the inquiry? You are going to need someone who knows how to run things and if you get someone with an obscure background with no background of establishment, they will find it very difficult and may not be able to produce the goods.”
She agreed that the normal processes of sifting of evidence and neutrality between accuser and accused might go by the board if the victims were allowed to dominate.
“Of course the victims are at the centre of this, as Theresa May said – it is hugely to her credit that she wanted this inquiry – but if the victims are to run it, then there will be real difficulties.”
She said there had to be victim representation on the panel, but they should not chair it.
Butler-Sloss said she felt it was her duty to have accepted the invitation from the home secretary to chair the panel. “I think, without sounding arrogant, that I could probably have done the job.” But, she added, she was glad to not have to do it now.
Butler-Sloss resigned in July from the post, making the following statement: “It has become apparent over the last few days … that there is a widespread perception, particularly among victim and survivor groups, that I am not the right person to chair the inquiry. It has also become clear to me that I did not sufficiently consider whether my background and the fact my brother had been attorney general would cause difficulties.
“This is a victim-orientated inquiry and those who wish to be heard must have confidence that the members of the panel will pay proper regard to their concerns and give appropriate advice to government. Having listened to the concerns of victim and survivor groups and the criticisms of MPs and the media, I have come to the conclusion that I should not chair this inquiry and have so informed the home secretary.”
Butler-Sloss also defended her ability to investigate abuse in the church, saying she had investigated two churchmen who had not been found guilty of any offences but she believed needed to be looked at. Since then some of them had come before the courts.