Home secretary to face MPs over future of child sexual abuse inquiry

Amber Rudd to appear before MPs as outgoing chair claims review is too big to manage under current conditions

Amber Rudd

Amber Rudd (above) appointed Alexis Jay as chair of the inquiry immediately after Lowell Goddard resigned.
Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
The home secretary, Amber Rudd,
is to be questioned about the future of the independent inquiry into
child sexual abuse after the outgoing chair said its scale and
aspirations were impossible to manage in its current form.

Dame Lowell Goddard sent a 10-page critique of the setup of the
inquiry to the home affairs select committee, calling for a complete
review and remodelling to focus it “more towards current events and thus
focusing major attention on the present and future protection of

However, Goddard has declined a request to appear before the
committee on Wednesday to discuss her resignation. The New Zealand judge
told the MPs she was unavailable, leaving Rudd to answer their
questions during a wide-ranging general session on the home secretary’s

Lowell Goddard.


Lowell Goddard. Photograph: Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images

Goddard resigned from the abuse inquiry on 4 August. Rudd promptly replaced her with Prof Alexis Jay,
a distinguished social worker and inquiry member. The home secretary
wrote to the committee saying that she could not delay the appointment
because it was essential to maintain the confidence of the alleged
victims and survivors of abuse.

Jay quickly rejected the call for a complete overhaul and said she
wanted to reassure victims and survivors that the inquiry panel would
not be seeking any revision of its terms of reference or introduce any
new restrictions on its scope.

“To ensure that the inquiry can meet the challenges it faces, I have
already initiated a wide-ranging internal review of the inquiry’s ways
of working and we are currently looking at different approaches to
evaluating the information we receive,” she said.

She said they were committed to ensuring the inquiry could be
concluded within a reasonable time and with a “constant eye” on the cost
to the public purse.

Goddard said in her memo published on Tuesday that the
overall size and complexity of the inquiry’s terms of reference – which
stretch back more than 60 years and span institutions including the
church, councils, schools and Westminster – posed an unprecedented
organisational challenge for a public inquiry.


“That means that, in reality, the terms of reference in their totality cannot be met,” she said.

“With the benefit of hindsight – or more realistically – the benefit
of experience, it is clear there is an inherent problem in the sheer
scale and size of the inquiry (which its budget does not match) and
therefore in its manageability.

“Its boundless compass, including as it does, every state and
non-state institution, as well as relevant institutional contexts,
coupled with the absence of any built-in time parameters, does not fit
comfortably or practically within the single inquiry model in which it
currently resides. Nor is delivery on the limitless extent of all of the
aspirations in its terms of reference possible in any cohesive or
comprehensive manner.”

The inquiry has a budget of £17.9m for 2015-16 and was initially
expected to run for five years, but there have been suggestions it could
take a decade to complete at a cost of up to £100m.

Goddard said the smaller-scale Australian royal commission into
institutional child sexual abuse was given twice the amount of funding.
More could be learned from that inquiry, she said, in particular its
ability to delegate its hearing responsibilities and its conduct of
private sessions to ensure victims and survivors were heard.

She recommended the re-establishment of a separate truth project,
modelled on the Australian commission, which could fulfil the pledge to
hear survivors’ cases, with their information being fed into the main
inquiry and individual stories being published anonymously.

This aspect of the inquiry needed to be seriously rethought and,
while support was in place for survivors who wanted to share their
experiences confidentially, “the experience is not a therapeutic
exercise” and could not provide long-term support, she said.

“I have recommended in my report to the home secretary that my
departure provides a timely opportunity to undertake a complete review
of the inquiry in its present form, with a view to remodelling it and
recalibrating its emphasis more towards current events and thus focusing
major attention on the present and future protection of children,” she

Goddard, 67, stepped down in August, hours after it was reported that
she had spent three months of her first year in the job either on
holiday or overseas, primarily in New Zealand. She had been appointed,
with an annual pay and benefits package worth £500,000, after May’s two
earlier choices for the post also resigned prematurely.

Alexis Jay.


Alexis Jay. Photograph: Martin Hunter

In her memo, Goddard responded to the reports, saying that in the 16
months she spent as chair “there has never been a time when the inquiry
and its objectives did not dominate my life”. She added: “I made a firm
commitment to undertake it and was determined to see it through to its
conclusion. I am disappointed that this has not been possible.

“It was never easy operating in an environment in which I had no
familiar networks and there were times when it seemed a very lonely
mission. However, I am pleased I was able to set it on its way.
Ultimately, however, I had to face a situation which I could not solve
and which would continue unless challenged. I resigned to make that
challenge occur.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said the inquiry had a vital role to play
in exposing the failure of major organisations to prevent systemic child

“Our commitment to this inquiry is undiminished. We owe it to victims
and survivors to confront the appalling reality of how children were
let down by the very people who were charged to protect them and to
learn from the mistakes of the past,” she said.

She said Jay had “a strong track record in uncovering the truth and
it is essential that she is able to get on with the important job of
delivering justice to those that deserve it”.

Charities and survivors respond to Goddard’s memo


the new chair of the inquiry sought to reassure victims that its scope
would not be limited, others suggested that concerns raised in Goddard’s
memo should not be ignored.

Gabrielle Shaw, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac), said that while she did not believe the inquiry was “doomed to failure”, Goddard’s comments should be taken onboard.

“We still very much support this inquiry, but that doesn’t mean we
have an idealistic view of it,” she said. “Could it be run better? Could
it be improved? Yes. Let’s learn from her comments and expertise rather
than casting her as a failure.”

Shaw added: “I don’t know if [Goddard] is right, but I very much
think she is right to raise the question […] I don’t think there needs
to be a total overhaul, but I think her points should be taken onboard
and if there are improvements that can be made, let’s make them.”

Others have been less nuanced. The former director of public
prosecutions Lord Macdonald, who previously called chairing the inquiry
“not so much a poisoned chalice as a lethal injection”, has argued that
the inquiry is in danger of “taking years to confirm what we already

Its scope had “become an investigation into 60 years of everything
everywhere” and was now “the enemy of a useful outcome”, he said.

“We have to learn from the past without obsessing over it to the
exclusion of making a better future. So its terms of reference should be
urgently rewritten to focus on policy and legal reforms that will best
protect children in the future.”

However, the founder of Napac, Pete Saunders, who sits on the the
inquiry’s survivors panel, said the scale of the inquiry matched the
scale of abuse – both historic and current. “[Goddard] is not wrong,
it’s a huge undertaking – but the inquiry is not too big. To say that is
to deny the scale of the problem. If to do it properly needs more
resources and time, then that is what must happen.”


clear parameters so that victims are clear about the role of the
inquiry would help, said Shaw. “Some victims and survivors may have
thought that this is their chance to have their own case heard and
resolved, but the inquiry was set up to look at what went wrong more
generally in the institutional setting and how this could be avoided in
the future.”

Goddard’s suggestion that a separate truth project, modelled on the
Australian commission, could be set up to hear survivors stories and
provide support was worth considering, she said. “We need to make sure
people are well looked after before, during and after,” she said. “We
already know from our helpline that when survivors do reach out the
services they can turn to are woefully inadequate.”

But Goddard’s call for the inquiry to be remodelled to focus it “more
towards current events and thus focusing major attention on the present
and future protection of children” was criticised by some survivors of
child abuse.

Andrew Lavery, spokesman for the survivors group White Flowers Alba, who has spoken about being abused at a Catholic boarding school in the Highlands of Scotland, said the comments were “demeaning.”

“How can you look at the future if you do not look at what happened
in the past?” he said. “[Goddard] was paid a lot of money, she buggered
off and we’ve been let down.”

Lavery said he was unconvinced by Jay’s attempt to calm the waters by
announcing an internal review. “We desperately want this inquiry to
succeed, but at the moment it’s like we’re on a plane, but we don’t know
where it is going.”

Alexandra Topping

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