Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: Survivors should unite not fight

The future of the current child sex abuse inquiry reaches a  ” make or break ” moment this Wednesday. On that day it will either be wound up or reinvented.

What has particularly depressed me about the whole business is the way it has been handled. The Home Office, in particular, has not covered itself in glory – recommending two chairs that had to resign – and with a new chair still to be appointed months after the inquiry was originally set up.

What started with great hopes when seven MPs of opposing parties got together to ask Theresa May, the home secretary, to set this up has ended in despair with people quarrelling with each other on-line, demanding resignations  of panel members and refusing to co-operate or attend listening events.

I don’t think people realise what a mean feat it is – thanks to the open-mindedness of Tory Mp, Zac Goldsmith- to get together  seven MPs from four parties with opposing views- Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green – and get them to agree to press an initially reluctant government to set up the overarching inquiry in the first place.

The MPs have frankly not followed the ” yah boo ” script of scoring political points off each other – and tried to take the issue out of party politics. The Opposition has also rightly tempered its criticism of Theresa May in Parliament  when it would be easy to score cheap points from her discomfort as the debacle unfolded. They recognised she was genuinely committed to the inquiry- and respected that.

I wish I could say the same for some of the survivors and professionals but I can’t. By all means have a lively, rational debate on what is to be done and try to convince others of your case. But to descend into demanding people are removed from a panel, banned from attending meetings ( as the Survivors Alliance wants) or to claim that your view is what every one of the probably millions of survivors want is both arrogant and wrong.

You can change people’s minds. I originally thought it would be better to have a non statutory inquiry after the success of Hillsborough. I now think it should have statutory powers because of the issues it is dealing with – and the fact it has to tackle very powerful people whose instinct will be to want to cover  everything up.

However they are lots of ways to run a statutory inquiry. The simplest one is to scrap the existing panel replace it with a judge, employ phalanxes of highly paid lawyers and hold judicial style hearings where witnesses are cross-examined in public. This means it  will be transparent but survivors will have to face cross-examination even if their hearing is in private. It will also mean that the judge – and the judge alone – will decide what the report will say. And I am afraid the history on this is not good – with  findings often at odds with the evidence presented – take Hutton and Leveson for starters. Or more pertinently, take the Waterhouse inquiry into North Wales child sexual abuse, which is now having to be reviewed. Also statutory inquiries can be delayed and delayed  as lawyers argue about their findings – as is the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War for example,

Survivors will be confined to giving their evidence in this model -but the judge will decide whether to believe them.

The other way to do this is to combine the present panel with a judge and work in a collegiate way. Here survivors not only give evidence but alongside other professional people – have an input into what the report will say. They are real participants.

Just a moment. Isn’t this what we have got already? Yes it is, we have a panel of  experts who can tackle the issue and understand child sexual abuse. So why throw the whole thing out and start again.

Now it is clear from an article I have written with Mark Watts in Exaro today that while some survivors  and professionals have told Theresa May the whole inquiry has to be scrapped other survivors who have attended the listening events in London and Manchester passionately want it to continue. And I don’t understand why the people who want it scrapped seem to want to deny the people who want it to continue any voice. Particularly as some of them have turned down invitations to attend.

Isn’t it  about time that survivors tried  to work with each other rather than undermine each other?

33 thoughts on “Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: Survivors should unite not fight

  1. Define survivors first. 50% of ‘survivors’ I’ve interacted with aren’t survivors at all. They make up experiences, events and have no real positive input what-so-ever. Their only intentions are to disrupt, misinform and contaminate real events and or experiences. As a proven genuine/real survivor of the North wales care scandal I can only despair at the lengths certain parties have gone to to rubbish myself and others. One has to ask who, why and for what ends? All very spookish and underhanded. If their intentions were to frighten ‘us’ off the net they’ve failed. Continuing to attack ‘us’ only provides ‘us’ with more determination to expose the real abuses that have occurred.


  2. Reblogged this on Desiring Progress and commented:
    Another must-read post from David Hencke. It’s so sad that things have got to this level, maybe inevitable given the how emotionally fraught the whole matter is, above all for survivors, but there must still be a way forward.


  3. I am going on Wednesday (as a psychotherapist working with these issues) hopefully to help achieve something that does not become instituitionalised, dehumanised & ineffective – as in the many cases you have illustrated in the past, and is illustrated by the ongoing farce around appointing a suitable chair. However also something that people who have experienced gross abuse have confidence in dealing with. I’m not sure of the best format at this point, so your comments were helpful and I hope to learn more on Wednesday.
    I do know that the extent of sexual abuse that scars our communities is way higher than is ever reported or acknowledged, but, people are coming forward more now and i feel they need to be supported by having safer and more effective places to report to. This can only enhance the quality of our society.


  4. I strongly suspect this is all a ‘smoke and mirrors’ act by the politicians to cause extra delay until after general election. There will always be disagreement by passionate interested parties who all want the same thing, The truth of what happened and who covered it all up. The mechanics of how this is achieved is mainly down to mistrust of the politicians and how they could manipulate the results.


  5. You say “The other way to do this is to combine the present panel with a judge and work in a collegiate way. Here survivors not only give evidence but alongside other professional people – have an input into what the report will say. They are real participants.

    Just a moment. Isn’t this what we have got already? Yes it is, we have a panel of experts who can tackle the issue and understand child sexual abuse. So why throw the whole thing out and start again.”

    I don’t see how, in the absence of a judge alongside the panel, this is “what we’ve got aready”.

    Jonathan West and David Burrows have put forward some convincing arguments why the inquiry needs the powers and expertise of a judge, particularly when the inquiry needs to be able to compel organisations allegedly involved in past cover-ups to produce evidence. There is a difference between investigating ignored abuse and investigating the official concealment of abuse – though in either case, given the record of past inquiries, full transparency is essential.

    If articulate survivors and trustworthy whistleblowers are convinced of the need for a new start, who are Exaro to be dismissing them as simply “a vocal minority”? The Exaro team seems to have decided to take sides against the group who are unconvinced that a panel-steered inquiry able to take evidence from survivors is an adequate mechanism for pursuing the evidence wherever it may lead. Your investigative commitment and achievements have been really impressive, but you now seem increasingly inclined to engage in divisive advocacy instead of reporting critically but impartially.

    Of course unity is strength, but your reluctance to acknowledge the good reasons why intelligent people might dissent from your preferred solution is unlikely to help overcome the disagreement.


    • “If articulate survivors and trustworthy whistleblowers are convinced of the need for a new start, who are Exaro to be dismissing them as simply “a vocal minority”

      Thanks , as a member of the ” vocal minority” i agree we are not rabble rousers or trouble makers just people who dont want to see history repeating with a rigged enquiry like before , and this notion of “set against the enquiry” as if to suggest we are against all enquiries of this nature , this lead to speculation about us being some shadowy group with sinister intentions

      Of course an enquiry is needed to bloody invesrigate all the many many cases and the reveal how the paedophile networks operated citing perpetrators , senior officials , departments lack of care, transportation of victims, cover up operators disinformation in the media , bent cops, security bods who protected vips , documents disappearing , victims bumped off and fitted up whistleblowers fitted up and silenced
      Thats.whats.needed a massive investigation , not a freindly chat amongst mates who know ppl in high places


      • I find it strange how Exaro seem to write off the arguments of the impressive list of signatories on the letter to Theresa May without any real critical analysis.

        The inquiry needs to understand what happened in the institutions where abuse occurred, so of course it needs to encourage and hear the survivors, but it’s not simply a truth and justice commission, it’s purpose is to investigate why previous attempts to establish the truth and secure justice appear to have been sabotaged.

        As you (bobchewie) point out, it’s the record of failure by the responsible authorities and the evidence that this is systematically linked to the protection of paedophile networks that is the core concern of this inquiry.

        Of course Sharon Evans’s ability to encourage abusees to come forward and speak out is important but her expertise appears to be above all in the area of family abuse. Like bobchewie, I’m at a loss to understand why Exaro are taking sides and supporting Sharon Evans’s defence of the panel set up non-transparently by Home Office civil servants while they summarily dismiss Liz Davies’s and others’ unrivalled experience of investigating and challenging the institutional concealment of abuse and paedophile network activity.

        The results of Exaro’s investigative reporting are impressive. But they haven’t offered a clear explanation why they have chosen to take sides in the way they have.


      • Owen,
        I am not dismissing arguments of campaigners. What I am warning about is that – from my own Home Office sources – there is a move to replace the panel with a judge led inquiry with no other panel members at all. Instead other experts – whether professionals or survivors will be asked – like the Leveson inquiry – to give evidence and the judge will make up his or her mind to believe them or not and produce the report without any consultation.
        I fear home office officials are using their complaints as a device to this end. So what will happen is NO survivor or expert will have any say about the findings at all – they will left shouting from the sidelines just like those who opposed the Hutton or Leveson findings when the report is published.
        So the campaigners who want to replace the existing panel with new members by calling for it to be scrapped will be duped. They will be left with nothing!


      • @David what a choice.
        1 rigged enquiry with a Home Office safe pair of hands judge
        2 or stick with Home Office approved safe pair of hands Home Office placements
        Ie rigged

        And what sort of choice is that ?

        how about option 3
        Which is a panel with caring professional experienced ppl who will investigate everything even if it takes years maybe its not a vote winner but it stands a better chance than the rigged set up by Terry May and her underlings


  6. Will the head of the enquiry have to come from an outside source, is there a conflict of interest using someone that has any connection to Parliament, Thereasa May has made two choices both had conflicts of interest, this shows how difficult it is for someone within Parliament, should the person who will head the enquiry come from another country,
    Have journalists been invited to listen and report on the enquiry.
    Victims of abuse are often alone, this is an opportunity to stand together as one.


  7. David what ” panel of experts ” would this be? sharon evans ?
    oh please .. why isnt dr davies on this panel then?

    its very simple david the survivors dont want a rigged panel with a panel of people placed as a ” safe pair of hands” to avoid asking difficult questions and naming names
    Why is that so hard for you to understand ?
    there would be no bickering if the Home Sec actually from day one bothered to listen to survivors instead of avoiding them and appointing some mates of hers
    I thought you were going to give the background on the panel , looks like its easier to attack survivors and blame them isnt it david


  8. David, thanks for clarifying. It seems clear that a transparently-appointed panel is important to inspire the confidence of many survivors, but at the same time it’s important that the Inquiry has the authority to do more than hear survivors, it has to be be able to ensure that culpable institutions are compelled to reveal what they know. That’s why I’m concerned at the emphasis on the Inquiry being equipped to hear survivors’ testimony, which the police rather than the Inquiry will be responsible for following up, without a balancing emphasis on the Inquiry having the capacity to hold institutions to account. I find this imbalance disturbing. However I do take on board the issue of divide and rule and the already suspect record of Home Office officials. Mark Sedwill’s evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee was certainly not encouraging.


  9. David, having reread your article at aand in particular the first four paragraphs, it’s still clear to me that Exaro are taking sides against the group of survivors who are unhappy with the existing format. Whether or not Home Office officials think they can use them to play off one side against another, the points the group have made are serious ones and your treatment has not paid them the respect they deserve. Instead you have minimised their contribution and, as I said before, you have aken sides, promoting division in the same way that you accuse the HO civil servants of doing. Exaro need to set out the issues in an even-handed analysis, not simply act as advocates for one point of view.


  10. Pingback: Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: Survivors should unite not fight | Catholic Canada

  11. Child Crimes Meeting @ Parliament yesteday.
    Highlight of the Meeting: Bill Maloney telling how it is.
    Self Promotion: The Solicitors.
    Worrying Part: The two ‘5’ officers at the back.
    More Worrying Part: The lack of paper coverage today, aside from the Morning Star.


  12. Not sure who it was aimed at, unless it was the press ? Moving to hear survivor’s accounts for those who are not familiar with them and some fire from activists, but how does this get the current Inquiry fit for purpose? Over 400 in that room felt too many. I could have done with a seat…


  13. Pingback: cathys foxs site on child abuse its worth a read believe me | meggiemom342

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