An inquiry into an inquiry: Will it uncover what went wrong when Ben Emmerson quit the Child Sexual Abuse inquiry?

ben emmerson

Ben Emmerson: He resigned as leading counsel from the inquiry last September Pic Credit: UN

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

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.

The Keith Vaz Westminster fan club: Why do they protect this man

keithvaz2

Keith Vaz MP: Now on the Justice committee

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

An extraordinary event took place in Parliament last night only hours after Amber Rudd, the home secretary, made the really bad decision to turn down an inquiry or independent panel into the  ” battle of Orgreave ” in the 1984 Miners’ Strike.

Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for Leicestershire North West, moved a rare motion objecting to the appointment of :Labour MP, Keith Vaz, to the Commons Justice select committee.

Keith Vaz, the MP for Leicester, East stood down  as chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee after an exposure in the Sunday Mirror, that he was involved in sex with two male prostitutes while posing as a ” washing machine salesman” in a flat he owned in North London. Police are at present assessing whether Mr Vaz committed any offences as a result of the scandal.

Mr Bridgen’s main point was that he should not stand for the post – because he himself had ruled out standing a home affairs committee chairman.

During his speech, Mr Bridgen told the Speaker Mr Bercow: “You have often spoken that this place must reflect the society with which we make the laws and I agree with you.

“I respectfully point out to the House that in any other sphere of activity a candidate with so much hanging unresolved over him would be very unlikely to be considered for such an important office.

“I believe and if (Mr Vaz) was in his place today I’d ask him to stand down from his nomination, but he’s not.”So I’d ask this House to reject his appointment otherwise I think we cannot blame the Great British public for having a low opinion of its politician and its politics – we can only blame ourselves.”

Earlier he had been warned by Mr Bercow to ” desist” after he also referred -under Parliamentary privilege- to a current historical child sex investigation said to be being conducted by Leicestershire Police where four people had come forward alleging child sexual abuse crimes.

However the view of Vaz’s supportive  MPs was that it was perfectly proper for him to be a member of the justice committee -despite the recent scandal. And it was 159 Tory MPs and ministers that came forward in droves to support the Labour MP. Labour MPs were remarkable in their absence – though a number of MPs who have raised child sexual abuse cases did vote for him – notably Simon Danczuk and Tom Watson.

But it was the Tory Cabinet that stood out in support of him. They included Amber Rudd, the home secretary, who decided that there has been no ” miscarriage of justice in Orgreave” and was obviously happy to think that Mr Vaz had committed no offence.

Other key supporters included Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, Liam Fox, the International Secretary; James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary and  former home office minister: David Gauke, chief secretary to the Treasury;Andrea Leadsom, the environment secretary,and Karen Bradley, the culture secretary, who is advised by Craig Woodhouse, a former Sun journalist and David Lidington, leader of the House.

Only nine MPs supported Mr Bridgen’s motion. They were Nicholas Soames; Jake Berry, Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen; James Duddridge, Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East; Philip Hollobone, Conservative MP for Kettering; Scott Mann, Conservative MP for North Cornwall;Matthew Offord, Conservative MP for Hendon; and Mr Bridgen himself. Two other MPs acted as tellers, Karl McCartney, Conservative MP for Lincoln, and Nigel Mills, Conservative MP for Amber Valley.

On these occasions Parliament seems to resemble more a members’ club than a body representing the nation. And it does itself no good. I have a feeling that the loyalty of MPs to Mr Vaz’s rehabilitation plan will be misplaced and a large swathe of the Cabinet might regret their hasty decision to follow their whips advice. Parliament should not be used to play games or it will fall even more into disrespect.

 

 

 

 

The “Jane” date rape case: A flawed report from MPs on the Home Affairs Committee

Keith Vaz MP, chair                  Leon Brittan

CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM

The House of Commons home affairs select committee has produced a number of outstanding reports on the criminal justice system. But its latest report on the Met Police’s handling of an investigation in allegations that Leon Brittan was involved in an historic ” date rape” case is not one of them.

The MPs have admonished the Met Police, demanded that a prominent MP, Tom Watson apologise to Leon Brittan’s family for helping the woman who made the allegation; produced a biased conclusion of how the Met handled the case and given fresh impetus to the idea that celebrities should be given special treatment. The report can be read here. 

Since then my extremely assiduous colleague Mark Conrad has found new information from witnesses interviewed by the Met Police which  are  at odds with the account given by the  original investigating officer and what was broadcast on the BBC  Panorama investigation into child sex abuse. You can read his article on the Exaro website. Mark Watts, Exaro’s editor in chief, has also done an analysis of the police evidence to the committee here.

My main quarrel with the MPs is the conclusions of the report. Not only do they seem biased towards  the investigating officer Paul Settle whose work they describe as ” exemplary” but they appear to ignore compelling evidence given his superiors, notably Deputy Assistant Commissioner Steve Rodhouse.

As Rodhouse put it “I think this investigation was following the evidence where it could and conducting a thorough investigation of all the circumstances. That was not done within DCI Settle’s investigation. I understand his rationale but there were other inquiries that needed to be conducted before we could say we had done the job thoroughly.”

Or “. It is highly unusual to undertake an investigation of this nature without interviewing the person who is accused.”

Not only is this ignored in the conclusions but the report indemnifies Mr Settle before, as the report itself says, there has been a  thorough review by another police force to see if the Met Police got it right. One would have thought the MPs would await its findings rather than act like a kangaroo court in  this instance.

And what are MPs doling praising a senior police officer for NOT following standard procedure in  rape cases which is to interview the accused? Or do they think important people deserve special privileges?

They also attack Tom Watson for intervening in the case. As far as I can see the evidence shows that his points had already been acted on independently by senior Met Police officers, so, in effect, it had no influence. In fact the senior police officers agreed with him. His language about the Brittan at a very sensitive time might be another matter.

Finally the report makes a big point about the police not informing Leon Brittan’s family that the case was not proven. They emphasise that this was appalling because he was a high profile figure.

I understand the problem here is that the police aren’t required to inform any accused person that the case is dropped – whether it is Lord Brittan or Joe Bloggs. That is the point the MPs should take up – they are not elected just to represent celebrities but all the people. And they should  not want special treatment just because someone is famous.

All in all , this strikes me as a report rushed out to meet a media feeding frenzy rather than  considered findings of a group of MPs on how the police should handle a very difficult and complex issue.

 

 

 

Vaz defeats Mactaggart in ight for home affairs chair

 Keith Vaz MP


Keith Vaz MP

Updated: Keith Vaz easily saw off Fiona Mactaggart for the chairmanship of the home affairs committee winning by 412 votes to 192. This will make him one of the ;longest serving chair of any Commons select committee as he will remain chair for the next  five years.

Keith Vaz, one of the more controversial Labour MPs, is facing a strong challenge for the chairmanship of the influential  House of Commons home affairs committee.The MP is being challenged by a former home affairs minister – the equally forthright Fiona Mactaggart. MP for Slough, and a doughty campaigner on human rights, civil liberties and race equality with strong views about prostitution -linking it to people trafficking and comparing the men who used prostitutes as little more than child  abusers.

The battle seems to have divided MPs – all of whom have a vote including ministers and shadow ministers – at next Wednesday’s elections.

The divide can be shown by the list of people nominating each candidate – which has to include political opponents – as well as people of their own party.

Vaz has been backed on the Labour side by Sir Gerald Kaufman, Jo Cox, Chris Evans, Mr David Winnick, Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck, Mr Chuka Umunna, Clive Efford, Ms Diane Abbott, Conor McGinn, Gareth Thomas, Mary Glindon, Steve McCabe, Tristram Hunt,  and Jonathan Ashworth .

Among Tories he is backed by Zac Goldsmith, who organised the all party pressure for the establishment of the child sex abuse inquiry, and MPs  like  Tories Chris Heaton-Harris and Nicola Blackwood, Scots Nat, Angus MacNeil. and Democratic Unionist,Sammy Wilson.

Fiona MacTaggart MP

Fiona Mactaggart MP

Fiona Mactaggart, is backed by Labour MPs, Margaret Hodge, Ian Mearns, Kate Green, Nia Griffiths, Jeremy corbyn, Jess Phillips. Bill Esterson, Alison MKcGovern, Liz McInnes, Rupa Huq, Daniel Zeichner, Gavin Shuker, ann Coffey, Diana Johnson and Yvonne Fovargue. Outside Labour she has got support from Tories, Daniel Kawczynski, Guto Bebb, ex home office minister,Damian Green, SNP member Tommy Shepherd; and SDLP member Mark Durkan.

Commons insiders say Fiona will have to campaign strongly to defeat Vaz who has been chairman since 2007 – and also been able to stand again because he has not served two full terms.