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The rather bland announcement from Alexis Jay, chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse that she had appointed an employment judge Mark Sutton to investigate dignity at work and safeguarding inside the inquiry poses more questions than answers.
It followed ferocious criticism from the Commons Home Affairs Committee after the rather lurid – and now said to be untrue – tale that its leading counsel. Ben Emmerson, had sexually assaulted a woman on the inquiry’s premises.
The report concluded: “It is not for us to pass any comment on the allegations made in the media about the former Counsel to the Inquiry, which he has categorically denied. We are not in a position, and it is certainly not our responsibility, to assess either the facts of the case or the details of the processes that the Inquiry pursued.
However, on the basis of the evidence we have seen, we do not believe that IICSA has taken seriously enough its responsibility to pursue allegations of bullying or disclosures of sexual assault within the Inquiry.”
It goes on:
“Nor do we believe it has done enough to demonstrate publicly that it has a robust approach to such matters. IICSA’s public response has been inadequate, and the words attributed to an unidentified “IICSA source” in the press in response to the alleged assault are completely inappropriate, appearing to dismiss the serious nature of the matter and the credibility of the alleged victim.
“One of the Inquiry’s key purposes is to assess other organisations’ procedures for dealing with disclosures of sexual assault or abuses of power, and institutional reluctance to confront difficult issues that might jeopardise their reputation. We therefore believe that it is extremely important that the Inquiry can show that it treats these issues with appropriate rigour when they affect IICSA itself.”
The reason for these strong words followed evidence from Hugh Davies QC, who resigned as Deputy Counsel to IICSA in December 2015, He made it clear he was unhappy with the procedures for handling such instances. He said:“the institution cannot abdicate responsibility to the person making the disclosure, who may be vulnerable or otherwise emotionally unable to pursue a formal process”.
Also significantly the report says : “We also received a confidential submission relating to this alleged incident. Although it is not appropriate for us to publish this evidence, it has helped us to understand the incident and the way in which IICSA dealt with it. We are very grateful to the individual concerned for providing us with this information.”
How IICSA handles this will be crucial and it must not be seen to bury it. Its instructions to Mark Sutton say:
“You are requested to examine the events surrounding the Counsel to the Inquiry’s resignation from the Inquiry and to advise on the appropriateness, in the given circumstances, of the Inquiry’s actions at that time.
If you find evidence that there are structural challenges in HR / employment matters that arise due to the legal status of public inquiries and their employment model of seconded staff, self employed individuals and contractors, the Inquiry would welcome your Review making broader recommendations or observations.”
He will not rerun or second guess the actual incident nor will he publish his advice to the inquiry. And the inquiry will see his report before any statement is published.
I have also learnt separately that Graham Wilmer, a member of the original panel before it became a public inquiry, wants Mark Sutton, to look at the involvement of Mr Emmerson in a campaign conducted by members of the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel to undermine him and the Lantern Project, which helped survivors in the Wirral, North Wales and the North West. He has passed documentary evidence to the inquiry. Given that Mr Wilmer was a member of the first independent panel one would expect ” dignity at work ” to apply to their dealings with him.
My concern – given there have been other allegations of bullying dating back to when Dame Lowell Goddard was in charge – is the inquiry may not do enough to allay fears and suspicions among staff working there.
If that happens people will not be satisfied. You can’t have an inquiry examining the most sensitive allegations of historical child sexual abuse which have been hidden for decades through the abuse of power if it can’t handle sensitive allegations about its own staff.
We don’t want yet another cover up in this already troubled inquiry.
We still don’t know, and probably never will, why Justice Goddard left the inquiry. Perhaps they all realise you cannot build a house if the foundations are rotten?
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I think the answer you require may come under the Official Secrets Act.
“It followed ferocious criticism from the Commons Home Affairs Committee after the rather lurid – and now said to be untrue – tale that its leading counsel. Ben Emmerson, had sexually assaulted a woman on the inquiry’s premises”. One twitter tweeted “This was just an excuse for others to try and sabotage the Inquiry. it’s gerrymandering the borders into the abuse enquiry… don.t they want the real to truth out”. The allegation had already been investigated by the Home Office, so why was it allowed to continue, was it because the Home Affairs Select Committee interested in gaining control of the Inquiry from the Home Office. Why would they want oversight? A reasonable question to answer, and not difficult to answer. Many years ago I sat on a committee which had a very powerful chairman. He always allowed proposals he did not want to be sent to a sub-committee, placing his henchman on the sub-committee, they sowed the seeds of doubt, and after a year the sub-committee returned to give their report. By that time, one or two of the proposers had resigned because of frustration, and the final report would be so full of doubts, the Chairman thanked everyone for their efforts and asked for a vote on going forward or should it be postponed till a later date. If the Home Affairs committee had gained oversight , we be seen the winding down of the Inquiry in 2017
thank you for your email.
Ben Emmerson QC is no longer instructed by the Inquiry. I am not in possession of the evidence on which this observation was based, given that this was made by Ben Emmerson QC. Unfortunately, I am unable to assist any further in this matter.
a| PO Box 72289, London, SW1P 9LF
On 23 November 2016 at 11:04, Solicitors – wrote:
a| PO Box 72289, London, SW1P 9LF
IICSA Logo (small)
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Graham Wilmer
Date: 22 November 2016 at 23:07
Subject: Ben Emmerson
Cc: Richard Scorer
Ben Emmerson has informed me that he has passed my request for evidence to support his email to Lucy Duckworth, in which he stated “Graham appears to have come completely undone”, to you, to respond to me.
Lucy Duckworth has been involved in a campaign to undermine me for over a year now, including her attempt to have me removed from my role as a member of the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Panel.
Merseyside Police informed me that they believed Lucy Duckworth was responsible for leaking private emails I had sent to Peter Saunders to Andrew Lavery, who then published them on social media as part of a wider campaign to undermine me and my charity, the Lantern Project.
As Ben Emmerson has informed me that he has referred my request for evidence to you, can you please advice me when I can expect a response?
Graham Wilmer MBE
Director – The Lantern Project
Supporting Survivors of Sexual Abuse
Mobile: 07852 226757
Registered Charity # 1097265
Emmerson was not the only lawyer to depart: Prochaska went to, as did the Chair (a New Zealand Lawyer).
The real question is about the true aims of the £100m+ inquiry: is it an academic social work study? Is it a focal point leading to long overdue prosecutions? Is it a catslyst for victim closure, healing and finding peace? Or is it a Truth and Reconciliation set up seeking to put past sins into the past?
I am not convinced that bright lights in a big building is best to tease out the truth. Much to be said for jeans and a cup of tea – more likely to create trust, allows breaks if triggers are inadvertently touched on, keeps tears, wails and a need for a reassuring hug out of the public gaze.
I must say I would each major evidence strand a senior social worker, a recently retired police officer, a legal professional to tease out evidence and collate into an initially presentable form. That could then be interrogated by the Inquiry, using both direct discussions with victims as well as interrogating the professionals assigned.