Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Debacle: Why it is important where we go next

Today (mon) home secretary Theresa May, will face a barrage of criticism in Parliament for her office’s failure to twice find a suitable person to chair the much needed historic child sex abuse inquiry

Losing not one chair but  two – Baroness Butler Sloss and Fiona Woolf – because of potential conflicts of interest in a matter of weeks smacks of real incompetence by a department that should know better. it also caused severe embarrassment both to the people appointed and to the home secretary herself.

But I hope today is seen not just as an opportunity for ” yah boo” politics between Labour and the Tories but for a more reflective discussion of how we got here and what is needed to put it right.

What cannot be denied is that the home secretary did not entirely fulfil what she promised the ” magnificent seven ” MPs requested in drawing up the panel. True she did take on board their request for survivors on the panel – appointing two – Graham Wilmer, who runs the Lantern Project and Sharon Evans,  a former TV  presenter who runs a children’s charity.

But there – as far as I can find out – been no through consultation over the appointment of the two chairs of the panel involving the MPs – and there has also, to my surprise, been no internal consultation inside the home office. Frankly they should also have asked survivors groups BEFORE not AFTER the appointments.

It is probably not well-known but the home office has its own very small unit which can advise on the setting up of independent panels, who is appointed to them, and can interview suitable people to sit on them – or at least advise newly appointed secretaries to inquiries set up by other ministries on how to get going.

I understand this body was never consulted yet it can claim a track record of success. Its biggest achievement has been the Hillsborough Inquiry into the tragic deaths of Liverpool fans where it got a chairman, now the former bishop of Liverpool, to preside. None of those families of the fans would now say it didn’t get to the bottom of a grave injustice hidden for years.

Yet child abuse survivors might be surprised to know that it got the information without any statutory powers by ruthlessly pursuing the evidence and cajoling reluctant authorities to hand over  the information, including stuff that is now landing the South Yorkshire Constabulary in dire trouble.

It did have one duty  – and only one duty – to tell the families who lost loved ones at Hillsborough Stadium first what it had found out. Once it had done this it published everything as fact – and set up of a train of events – now being shown by the inquest into Hillsborough.

It is also responsible for the current Daniel Morgan murder inquiry – where I suspect but do not know the same tussle is probably going on now.

Now many of the survivors seem to want a statutory inquiry which can compel people to attend, give information,  force people to confess to crimes, with grand public hearings and a very detailed terms of reference. Be careful what you wish for.

Superficially it sounds great but there are drawbacks to this approach. Terms of reference need to be nebulous rather than specific so the panel cannot be stopped following the facts wherever it takes them – and given the wide sweep of institutions involved it needs to go to places we may not have even thought about.

Second yes statutory power sound great but there is one drawback – I am told it allows lawyers representing anybody or organisation accused by survivors to demand the status of ” an interested party”. That means anything you tell them could go straight back to their lawyers before the inquiry even reports.

If it is non statutory there is no obligation whatever to tell them anything – and their lawyers have no right to find out.

If it follows what happened in Hillsborough and in Daniel Morgan – the families are centre stage. In this case, it means the survivors are centre stage – the panel is obliged to you, you are not obliged to the panel. This means you will know first what the findings are – not the armed forces, the security services, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the councils, the police, schools or any other body that allowed you to be abused.

Finally I hope the panel can tell you whether they have obtained a freezing  or preservation order on all documents listing evidence or allegations of child sexual abuse. Whitehall permanent secretaries have a superb meeting and network facility – and could send out letters now banning the destruction of all documents. I would expect the Church of England – after Archbishop Welby’s words last week to do the same.

And as for a chair – whoever is appointed faces the risk of ” guilty by association ” if they worked in any organisation because of the widespread nature of child sexual abuse. It just depends on how guilty the association is and the Home Office needs to do a  better job of finding this out.

15 thoughts on “Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Debacle: Why it is important where we go next

  1. Well said as far as you go but remember the genie is out of the bottle I believe I have worked out what will happen tomorrow and hope the right people have listened to what I have said and it should be OK with what we have now continuing. However what will happen after the General Election is another matter

    Remember the appearance of something can be the opposite of its reality and the role of the Opposition is to oppose and we operate an adversarial system in politics and in the courts..

    Also remember the role of the head of state includes advice and that both minister and shadow ministers are members of the Privy Council with her Majesty’s barons having the right of direct access to the head of state although most of the other privileges have been put into abeyance .

    I could say much else but will wait until seeing the media reaction to the session and evaluating

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  2. I am not sure this is reliable comment; but please let me know where you get your legal information from, and what is the legal – ie statute or common law – source of the following?
    (1)…’a statutory inquiry which can compel people to attend, give information, force people to confess to crimes, with grand public hearings and a very detailed terms of reference. Be careful what you wish for.’
    (2) ‘I am told it allows lawyers representing anybody or organisation accused by survivors to demand the status of ” an interested party”. That means anything you tell them could go straight back to their lawyers before the inquiry even reports.
    ‘If it is non statutory there is no obligation whatever to tell them anything – and their lawyers have no right to find out.’
    (3) ”Finally I hope the panel can tell you whether they have obtained a freezing or preservation order on all documents listing evidence or allegations of child sexual abuse.’
    Of (1) and (2): I’m not saying you’re wrong; but the powers of a non-statutory inquiry, and ‘lawyers’ before the inquiry is not quite how I understand position. Also, I think it follows from waht you say that you would prefer a closed inquiry. Mrs May promised transparency; and I think this is what most survivors would prefer. (I should have thought most of teh media would too.) And teh power of anyone – panel or anyone else – to get a search or freezing order in circumstances such as this derives from where, please?

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    • david

      I got this from a detailed discussion with a member of the Hillsborough Inquiry on how it worked and the pitfalls if it had been statutory – evidently lawyers defending the police and authorities were desperate to know what the inquiry was examining in detail so they could obfuscate and delay the issue but because it was non statutory had no locus to find out.

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    • A problem is that there are people out there who hang on yr every word; and some trust you. I don’t know what the journos rules are any more abt source; but if you are going to cite law, please check it (I don’t assume you know who I am; but a number of journalist do: you cld follow me on twitter and check points on this CSAinquiry with me – if you’d like to). As to a closed inquiry (is that really what a journalist wants) and search orders: what power does a non-statutory panel (or anyone) have to do that.
      Mrs May got the law wrong in Parliament today. This inquiry has been shambles enough: please don’t you worsen it – whatevr you say you’ve been told by lawyers. If they’d told me that – like me of you – I’d ask tehm to tell me where they’d found their information.

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      • Mrs A

        As a diligent journalist I had a long conversation with someone who knew the details of the way the Hillsborough Inquiry was run,the legal pitfalls, and their success in getting information without legal powers ( all but two organisations complied and those who didn’t found the information got there through other sources).
        As for my personal knowledge of statutory inquiries and the working of independent panels, I would say, watch this space.

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  3. I am sure there will be Climbiest type recommendations when this sham is over – but getting to the bottom or should I say top of it will never happen. Why? The powers that be i.e. 99% of MPs past and present, ‘journalists’ and Law Enforcers are either too scared or too busy preserving their careers and protecting their pensions. Well all of you – the establishment types – know what this is all about and who and what it is protecting – as Jack said in the film ‘You can’t handle the truth! Perhaps Russell Brand is closer to the truth than you lot. I hope he is.

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  4. Yes, yes: I wasn’t asking you who you are, Mr Hencke. I believe we have been introduced. Was wondering about the mysterious ‘dbfamilylaw’. Whose profile pic is taken in Fowey, I note, recognising the view.

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    • Sorry typical me – they are the same lawyers organising a petition for a statutory inquiry among survivors and bringing a judicial review to close down the present inquiry and have it replaced with a new membership.

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    • As to Fowey: well spotted. And yes, I’m a solicitor advocate named David Burrows. I do understand – as is confirmed by David Hencke – that he has spoken to another lawyer. I am told it is Mr Richard Scorer for his information. I believe – as I shall show – that the information given to Mr Hencke is badly flawed.

      That said, I’ll be frank: I’m learning a lot about inquiries. In part this is becaase the law, especially procedural rules, are more vague than some might like; and filling the gaps is not easy (often teh case with teh outer reaches of the common law).

      To satisfy myself, and any others who may be concerned I am doing a note about the points I am worried about above (at http://dbfamilylaw.wordpress.com/). I shall explain why Mr H and his lawyer friend are misleading people. If you are interested give me a little time and I’ll put someting up at my above blog site.

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  5. Pingback: #CSAINQUIRY: A STATUTORY INQUIRY – some answers | dbfamilylaw

  6. Pingback: A Fortnight in the Life of the Overarching Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry. Where now? | cathyfox

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