A very legal coup:How Theresa May’s triumph meant Lowell Goddard’s demise

Theresa May

Theresa May,  then home secretary,  now prime minister.Pic Credit: conservatives.com

Unexpected political events can have unforeseen circumstances. The surprise coronation of Theresa May as Britain’s Prime Minister is one of them. Winning power because of Cameron’s failure to persuade the British people to remain in the European Union, she took office much earlier than expected when her gaffe prone rival Andrea Leadsom stood down.

It appears May’s sudden elevation and departure from the Home Office was the catalyst  that allowed some seasoned plotters unhappy for some time with Lowell Goddard’s performance as chair of the  child sex abuse  inquiry to act.

If Cameron had won the referendum and Theresa May was still home secretary it might well not have happened. For Theresa May could hardly accept the resignation of the third chair of a troubled inquiry within two years.

Piecing together what happened is not an exact science and not without its problems but it all points to a clever legal coup.

ben emmerson

Ben Emmerson:  Pic Credit: UN

The most powerful figure in the inquiry  apart from Goddard is Ben Emmerson, the QC to the inquiry. Nothing would have happened without his blessing and he must have been involved in her departure He is a formidable human rights lawyer, highly intelligent  and an award winning barrister from a highly political chambers, Matrix, whose former partners included Cherie Blair. He also has an ego the size of The Shard and is remarkably focused to the point of being perceived as a bit of a bully.

The irony about his role in the departure of Dame Lowell is that he was the one who introduced her to the Home Office in the first place.  He was the one because of his connections with the UN human rights body knew of her reputation in the human rights field .

He also rescued Theresa May at a time when two previous chairs, Dame Fiona Woolf and Baroness Butler Sloss, had to quit because of perceived conflicts of interest. At the time it seemed a brilliant move – removing any connection with the British Establishment when Establishment figures faced allegations of child sex abuse.

So what went wrong? According to different sources two things. Dame Lowell came into conflict with her own legal team about the scope and direction of the inquiry until the differences could not be resolved.

And the hard pressed secretariat became demoralised by the sheer scope and size of the different strands of the inquiry which promised to swamp their work and bury them in mounds of paper.. One source talked about absenteeism and low morale.

The decision to model the inquiry on the Australian child sex abuse investigation might have seemed a good idea at the time. But it is now clear that Australia is not England and Wales. The long running Australian inquiry has fewer numbers of people, fewer institutions and the population  is much lower than England and Wales.

I suspect that one of the issues that any new chair will have to examine is how to give the inquiry more focus. This may prove to be unpopular with survivors.who are already unhappy that some institutions are not being covered and will be worried that it could be used to cover up abuse. But to have any hope of meeting a timetable the inquiry cannot be opened ended. Nor is the issue of support for survivors being addressed either.

So who will get the new job. Some see the move as a clever ploy by Ben Emmerson to take over the chair himself and appoint a new QC to the inquiry. I am not so  sure he will want to be tied down for five years.

Some survivors want Michael Mansfield but this seems unlikely according to my Whitehall sources..

lady justice hallett pic credit BBC

Dame Heather Hallett – powerful candidate. Pic credit: BBC



My money is on Dame Heather Hallet – as being the most attractive to the PM who is bound to have a say alongside Amber Rudd, the home secretary.

A grammar school girl ( though an article  interviewing her suggested they did her no favours suggesting she would make a good domestic science teacher) and well grounded in the legal profession ( husband, Nigel Wilkinson is a mercantile judge and one of her sons, a barrister) she is a powerful contender.

She also showed considerable empathy as a coroner handling the  inquest into the 7/7 terrorism bombings and a fair amount of guts in investigating the scandal of the Blair government giving licence to IRA killers on the run  to avoid prosecution.

Whether she will want it is another matter.But whoever it is they will have to be very strong minded and an expert on English law. The first test will be the attempt by the Janner family to throw out any investigation into allegations against Greville Janner. The family are adamant that child sex abuse survivors have fabricated the allegations against him and therefore it should not even been considered  by the inquiry. This is why they want a judicial review not just to stop a ” trial “but I gather to reject any suggestion that such things ever happened.

All the survivors have been assured at a meeting with the remaining panel members ( but minus  Ben Emmerson) last week that the inquiry will continue. But how it will continue will depend on the next chair.


11 thoughts on “A very legal coup:How Theresa May’s triumph meant Lowell Goddard’s demise

  1. sounds right The problem was the Inquiry when set up was too narrow in that it is impossible to separate child sexual abuse from abuse generally, the regimes of institututions and the child protection policies and systems. The main focus I thought was the cover up its extent, was it because of the National Interest, not in the public interest or because of tribal protectionism or to avod reputational damage to the organisation or body. To do this it must be looked at across the UK and the arguments about excluding Scotland and Northern Ireland just did not hold up. It was too wide in terms of the the institutions being covered unless the UK wide issue of cover was to be covered as what is involved is rhe seperate cultures and changing them is institutition specific and not general.

    I was also puzzled by the approach to holding so many Hearings of short duration unless these were to be narrowly focussed as they appear to be which seems against the issue of comprehensive and thoroughness. The game was given away by calling the project to provide victim survivors with the ability to tell their story and it records as the Truth Porject. This ment that the Hearings were concerned not with Truth but the determination of fact. according to due process and the law at the particular time. Admitteldy as Justice Goddard said those issued were just the first tranche so possible those at the end would look at the big question of Government, Parliament, Justice system, Police cover up The departure of Justice Goddard provides the opportunity for a refocus, a timetable and a budget to include the resources required

    It should be evuident that the Home Scretart rather than th Home Affairs Select Committee should agree to make statement with ample time of Member of the Coomons issues and saying this was a matter for the new Chairman is no longer acceptabler. The government should be clear what it wants, on time and resources and a Chairman appointed on that basis. The role of the Hone Affiars Committee should then be to hold a confirmation hearing to ensure the indivudal understands what is required and has the time and abikoty o deliver. But to avoid this happening again a deputy should be appointed in case of illness, accident or need to leve or be replaced.. I recommended three because if the likely hood of what has happened or at least a deputy Another faikrue should end the political career of a Minister. Colin Smart


  2. Ben Emmerson may have some personal insights to offer regarding what it’s like to work with prominent paedophiles on a day-to-day basis. Whilr he was Ramush Haradinaj’s defence counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, he worked side by side with the Tribunal’s Registrar Hans Holthuis at a time when Holthuis’s involvement with the Rolodex scandal was well known in the Netherlands. It would be interesting to hear what Emmerson has to say about how colleagues interacted with Holthuis in the circumstances.


    • Not just Ben Emmerson, in fact, Michael Mansfield was defence counsel for Fatmir Limaj around the same time, while Hans Holthuis was in charge of the ICTY Registry. Perhaps the pair of them might address the issue jointly.


      • Yes, tdf, I’m not stupid. The defence counsel’s role is to defend their client to the best of their ability, subject to professional ethical constraints. My reference to Emmerson had nothing to do with his role defending Haradinaj, it had to do with his employment by the ICTY working alongside Hans Holthuis.

        Emmerson’s currently tasked with conducting an investigation into how institutions for years sheltered, protected and failed to act appropriately against child abusers. My question is how much Emmerson, and Michael Mansfield as well, Fatmir Limaj’s defence counsel, knew about the significant and substantial allegations against the ICTY’s senior administrator while they were working for and at the Tribunal.

        I believe that it’s relevant to their involvement with IICSA for it to be known whether they knew of, took part in or looked away from any efforts to have the issues arising from thee allegations against Holthuis dicussed within the institution.


      • This is a non debate The failure and cover up was established by Blair Government in 1998 as had been by Thatcher and Major governments but not the full extent, or who precisely did what when and with whom or how individual people of public prominence were in 2012 to launch current police and individually protected and in some instance allowed to continue with their anti social/criminal behaviour. Remember it was Thatcher who decided in 1979 3 months after being PM who expose that Harold Wilson had used the prerogative Order in Council to protect third cousin of Queen Mother from being prosecuted and imprisoned as a spy. Anthony Blunt was allowed to continue as Keeper Head of State art attend London society functions until Lady Thatcher used a Labour MP PMQ to out Blunt who was able to live quietly until his death. Cameron as PM used Watson now Deputy Labour head in PMQ 2012 to launch current police and Inquiries… both were members of Chris Mullin Home Affairs Select Committee House of Commons that in 2002 effective brought to a halt further investigations. Those who pressurised the Home Affairs Committee in 2002 and the Blair government are still at work.


    • “before your next post as part of the Bandini/Anna Raccoon/Chris Saltrese challenge to Alexis Jay’s trustworthiness as an investigator of child abuse”

      Owen, fair dues, you’ve sussed me. I’ve recently been at an Illuminati meeting where I was given my orders by Bandini/Anna Raccoon/Chris Saltrese.

      And if you believe that, Owen, quite frankly, you’d believe anything.


  3. Good article, David. I do hope the government keep focused on this enquiry, which is so important on many levels. The mandatory reporting argument depends on the learning that comes from this enquiry.


  4. Pingback: Child abuse inquiry: Why did Goddard have to go, and who is Alexis Jay? | Vox Political

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