Child abuse inquiry panel cancels listening event with survivors
The panel appointed by Theresa May to carry out the child abuse inquiry has cancelled a listening event with survivors on Friday after complaints the meetings were being held with no support in place for victims who attend.
The cancellation of the meeting in Birmingham comes as Theresa May seeks to reconstitute the inquiry to meet the demands of some victims for it to be statutory, and after complaints about the make up of the independent panel.
But the delays over the start of the inquiry’s work, the controversy over the choice of chair and statements made in the media by some panel members raising doubt over the inquiry’s future have all put huge pressure on vulnerable survivors of child abuse, according to groups who represent them.
Some victims have been hospitalised as a result of self harming over anxieties that the inquiry will not happen and they will lose their chance to disclose abuse that took place in an institution, according to survivor groups.
Lucy Duckworth, who works with the Survivors’ Alliance, an umbrella group for some 200 organisations representing adult victims of child abuse, said the last minute cancellation of the panel listening event in Birmingham would only add to the distress of survivors. She said her organisation has complained about the lack of professional support put in place for these meetings. In its statement the inquiry panel said the meeting was being postponed because of the uncertainty over the future shape of the inquiry. The listening events are initial meetings designed to seek views from those attending particularly victims and their representatives, on how they would like the inquiry to engage with them.
Duckworth said: “I think all the listening events should be postponed until a proper structure is put in place and the inquiry secretariat and the panel respond to survivors’ concerns. I think it is regrettable that this event in Birmingham was cancelled at such short notice because some survivors were preparing to go and many had taken the day of work to do so. I think the way all this is being handled shows a complete lack of understanding of the triggers of abuse and the lack of awareness of the mental health issues surrounding this.”
In its statement on the inquiry website, the panel said the cancellation was due to the “uncertainty on the future shape of the inquiry.”
The statement said: “We are very sorry for any inconvenience caused – those who were due to attend this event will be given priority places at future meetings.
“We would like to stress that this is only a postponement and we will post a further update next week.
“We know this will be really disappointing news but we want to reassure everyone who has attended, or wishes to attend, one of our listing events that we do value your contributions and want to ensure that we continue communicating with you in taking forward the work of the inquiry.” The panel said that in future there would be proper support put in place for victims who came forward to the listening meetings around the country.
“This is in response to observations made by those that attended previous meetings. We will now have two safeguarding support professionals at each. They will work to ensure that both male and female attendees receive support should they require it on the day.”
May is under huge pressure to save the inquiry, set up to investigate institutional culpability for decades of child abuse, after a series of controversies over the appointment of two chairs – Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss and Fiona Woolf – who were seen to be too connected to the establishment to run the process, and over the make up of the inquiry panel.
At a meeting in the Commons on Wednesday, hundreds of survivors gathered to demand changes to the inquiry. Phil Frampton, from the survivors’ groups said the inquiry was in a mess, and the home secretary should rip up the process and start again.