Theresa May is to scrap the panel for the independent inquiry into child sex abuse, it has been reported.
The home secretary wrote to each member of the panel to tell them she is considering turning it into a statutory inquiry, or setting up a fresh statutory inquiry or a Royal Commission, according to the Exaro News
The letter, which followed a meeting between May and panel members on Monday to discuss the future of the inquiry, added that any statutory inquiry panel would be newly appointed, and that existing panel members can apply for positions on the new panel.
She put this decision down to concerns raised about the panel by abuse survivors. May wrote: “As I said on Monday, I am currently considering these three options and I appreciate this has implications for the members of the panel.
“I should like to make clear that I appointed each and every one of you for your experience, your professionalism and your undoubted commitment.
“I know that it has not been easy, that you are working in an incredibly sensitive and difficult subject area and that some of you have faced significant personal criticism.”
Current panel members have accused May of listening to a vocal minority instead of the majority of abuse survivors, and urged the home secretary to convert the inquiry to statutory status and keep the current panel.
One panel member, Sharon Evans, chief executive of Dot Com Children’s Foundation, which promotes child safeguarding, and herself an abuse survivor, wrote in a response to May that she felt “devastated at the prospect of the independent inquiry being halted”. She said that it had been made clear to the panel “off the record” that the panel will be stood down in the New Year.
“As a person who suffered sexual abuse between the ages of three and seven, it was important that the experiences of victims and survivors were integral to the inquiry,” Evans wrote. “It was agreed by the panel that these experiences would form our line of questioning of institutions and ‘the experiences of victims and survivors would be at the heart of the inquiry’.”
The independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse was set up to consider whether public bodies and other non-state institutions failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales.
Previously, the inquiry lost two chairs over accusations of conflicts of interest and survivors told May that they had also lost confidence in the rest of the panel.
Earlier this month it was revealed that two members of the panel had been accused of sending threatening or insulting emails to victims who had criticised the inquiry. Lawyers for one abuse survivor wrote to the home secretary to complain of a string of unsolicited communications, including an allegedly threatening email sent two days before an official meeting in November that both panellists and an abuse survivor were due to attend. The victim, who is on medication for post-traumatic stress disorder, was left too anxious to attend.
Evans noted, however, that the panel met with more than 70 representatives of victims and survivors of abuse, 90% of whom supported the independent panel. “There has been a small number of individuals and survivor groups engaging in personal attacks on panel members though social media and the press,” she wrote. “In the face of hostility by certain individuals, my concern is that the independent panel has been controlled to such a degree that it was unable to rebut or refute allegations.
“My second concern is that halting the inquiry at this point would send a very negative message to so many people we have already met and who have promised they can have confidence in us to do the right thing.”
It was also reported on Saturday
that a former local newspaper executive who claimed that he was issued with an official warning against reporting on an exclusive paedophile ring, was interviewed by an officer working for Operation Fernbridge, the criminal investigation examining claims of sexual abuse and grooming of children by a VIP ring of paedophiles that included MPs, police officers and people with links to the royal family.
Hilton Tims, 81, had claimed that his paper, the Surrey Comet, was issued with a D notice – an official warning not to publish intelligence that might damage national security – when he sought to report on a police investigation into Elm Guest House in 1984.