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Child Abuse Inquiry Loses Another Head

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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On 4th August 2016, the Independent Inquiry Into Child Abuse (IIICA), set up by then Home Secretary, Theresa May has lost its third head in two years.

Former New Zealand High Court Judge, Dame Lowell Goddard QC resigned curtly and abruptly, following a spate of criticism regarding her performance.  Victims are devastated by the announcement, but the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd has committed to finding a new chair as soon as possible.

The independent child abuse inquiry has already cost the taxpayer £18 million, and as yet, not a single witness has been questioned.  The final bill to the public is likely to be around £100 million and the inquiry is tipped to last anywhere from five to ten years.1

The scope of the Child Abuse Inquiry

The scope of the inquiry is unprecedented.  Justice Goddard confirmed late in 2015 that 12 parallel lines of inquiry into child abuse would be investigated including: 2

  • Children in the care of Lambeth Council
  • Children in the care of Nottinghamshire councils
  • Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale Council
  • Child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church
  • Child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church
  • The sexual abuse of children in custodial institutions
  • Child sexual abuse in residential schools
  • The internet and child sexual abuse
  • Child exploitation by organised networks
  • The protection of children outside the United Kingdom
  • Accountability and reparations for victims and survivors
  • Allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster

The fact that thousands of children were abused is not in any doubt.  It is how people and institutions got away with terrible crimes for so long that is the subject of the overarching investigation.  The IICA is expected to examine the national psyche and institutions of decades past, and carry out extensive examinations of how they operated in relation to children.  The inquiry needs to come up with key recommendations to ensure this type of abuse cannot occur in the future.

The Times stated that Justice Goddard complained of the “legacy of failure” that dogged her appointment from the start. “The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this,” she said in a statement. “Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure, which has been very hard to shake off, and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.” 3

There has been talk that the inquiry is simply too wide in scope to be effective in any way and that it might be necessary to break it up into separate parts. This, however, would be a return to the situation that existed before May launched the independent inquiry when a number of investigations were taking place simultaneously.

An inquiry dogged by controversy

Justice Goddard, whose salary package totalled £500,000 per year, is the third chair to resign in two years.  Baroness Butler-Sloss and Dame Fiona Woolf, previously resigned after being seen by abuse victims as too close to the Establishment.

Although victims of abuse generally approved of Justice Goddard’s sensitive handling of the investigations, she was accused of being autocratic and disdainful of her four panel members and failing to grasp basic elements of English law.4 One source was quoted in The Times as saying, “Is she difficult? Yes. You need a thick skin to work with her.”

The former High Court judge, who had led child abuse investigations in New Zealand, was also criticised for spending approximately three months of her yearlong tenure overseas.

A new leader

On the 11th August 2016, the Home Office announced that Professor Alexis Jay is to take over as Chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse. 5

Professor Jay, a child protection expert with more than 30 years’ experience, led the official inquiry into the Rotherham scandal, which found that at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town between 1997 and 2013.

Following the backlash regarding Dame Goddard’s pay and benefits, Home Secretary Amber Rudd was quick to reassure the public that the new Chair’s salary package would be less than the £500,000 awarded to Dame Goddard.

The appointment of Professor Jay has not been welcomed by all victims.  Some did not want a Chair who was linked with Social Work, after being failed so badly by members of the profession in the past.

However, many others welcome her appointment and point out that she was commended for her work during the Rotherham inquiry.

So many child abuse survivors have shown incredible bravery, strength and self-respect to overcome the horrors subjected on them.  Surely they deserve an inquiry head who displays at least some of the resilience and fortitude that many of those affected have themselves demonstrated over the years.

Let’s hope Professor Alexis Jay can provide this to them.

Compensation and support for victims of current and historic child abuse

At IBB, our personal injury team, led by personal injury and abuse lawyer, Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim following child abuse. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.


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