Child abuse inquiry should be handled by independent institute, says MP
The government is struggling to deal with the volume of historical child abuse allegations and should set up an independent institute to investigate the issue, a Labour MP has said.
John Mann, who was among campaigners for an inquiry into claims of abuse, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on New Year’s Day that there had been too much of a focus on who should lead the investigation, at the expense of victims.
The inquiry, sparked by claims of paedophiles operating in Westminster in the 1980s, is set to investigate whether “public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales”.
The panel has started work but has no one to lead it after its first two nominations resigned. The home secretary, Theresa May, who is still considering the format of the inquiry, has told the current panel it might be disbanded.
Abuse survivors have called for the government to scrap the current inquiry and replace it with a more powerful body.
Mann told the BBC: “I think there’s far too much emphasis on an individual.
“As an example, one of the things that survivors’ groups are calling for in the discussions I’ve had with them is for government to set up a national institute to take forward this work on what you do with all these people coming forward.
“We are talking about, probably, it’s going to be many tens of thousands of people across the country. It really is an extraordinary number of people.
“But the state can’t deal with the numbers of people coming forward.”
He added: “In my area, to give an example, single people coming forward, making multiple allegations against different children’s homes that they were in, the police and the social services cannot cope with the volume that’s there even now and we’re hardly at the beginning of people coming forward.”
The MP has previously handed Scotland Yard a dossier that includes allegations about the involvement of 22 politicians – some of them apparently still serving – in paedophile rings.
It comes after Lady Butler-Sloss, the original chair of the abuse inquiry, said she had “real problems” with victims of abuse deciding who should lead the investigation.
“If you do not have in the past a position of authority, how are you going to be able to run the inquiry?” she told the BBC on Wednesday.
Butler-Sloss was originally appointed by the Home Office to lead a wide-ranging inquiry into the way public and other institutions dealt with claims of abuse.
But she was forced to step down amid concern over conflicts of interest because her brother served as attorney general during the 1980s.
Her successor, Fiona Woolf, also stood down amid claims she was too close to the former home secretary Leon Brittan.
Mann, the veteran MP for Bassetlaw, on Thursday morning described the former chairwoman’s position as “rather sad” and “all too familiar”.
“It’s people in authority, for example in the police, for example in the top of the local authorities, who have failed to act over the years and have failed to act when some of these people came forward in the past,” he said.
In a separate development, a victim of child abuse has called for Butler-Sloss to apologise after she appeared to imply that he had given inaccurate and misleading information to the press.
Butler-Sloss resigned as chairwoman of the Westminster inquiry into establishment child abuse in July days after it was reported that shewithheld claims about a bishop from an earlier inquiry report because she “cared about the church”.
Phil Johnson, an abuse victim who sits on the Church of England’s national safeguarding panel, had said that he felt pressured by Butler-Sloss into her suggestion of withholding the allegations against the bishop. The pressure came during a meeting in 2011, he said.
Butler-Sloss told the Today programme that Johnson, who was abused as a choirboy, had given an inaccurate account. He had agreed with her not to include the reference to the bishop, she claimed.
Johnson, 49, last night released a recording of the 2011 conversation in Butler-Sloss’s office at the House of Lords, which he says supports his account.
He was abused for a decade by two priests, Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard, and met Butler-Sloss after she was asked by the Church of England to review how it handled the allegations against the men.
According to the Times, Butler-Sloss is heard telling Johnson in the recording: “What I do need to know is whether you want me to put Bishop [name redacted] in [her report].” She explained that “the press would love a bishop” and would concentrate on him rather than the two priests, Cotton and Pritchard, when her report was published.
Butler-Sloss added: “I have two reasons. One is of course I care about the church and I don’t want to give to the press that which is not terribly important in the context of the Cotton/Pritchard story. I just know if I put a bishop in, that is going to take the news. I would prefer not to refer to him but I don’t want to be unjust to you, do you see, and that is why I need to consult you on it.”
Johnson replied: “I think you will have to use your judgment on that, which obviously you are very qualified to do … I absolutely see the point you are making.”
The Times reported that Johnson felt he was being harangued into agreeing that Butler-Sloss would not refer to the bishop.
Johnson said that he was shocked when he heard Butler-Sloss suggest on Wednesday that he had lied and changed his story. He said: “I believe [the recording] backs up my account. She was not being impartial; she is bringing her personal view into it. I believe it shows exactly why certain members of the establishment should not be involved in the child abuse inquiry.”