Last week was another challenging week for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, following on from weeks of rumours, allegations of racism and the departure of key legal staff.
Now on its fourth chairman, the inquiry has again become the subject of a parliamentary select committee hearing, and the debacle has bled into politics, raising serious questions in some circles about Teresa May’s premiership.
Review of the Inquiry
At the start of last week, the new chair Professor Alexis Jay – herself a controversial appointment for some survivors who see Jay, a former social worker, as too close to those she is investigating, despite her success in Rotherham – launched a review of the process, announcing that the scale of the Inquiry would likely be significantly scaled back. The inquiry’s current structure is subdivided into 13 separate investigations, each dealing with various areas. Whilst Jay did not specify which, if any, of those individual investigations would be curtailed, she did not rule out the possibility, prompting much concern amongst the various interested parties.
Moreover, Jay was adamant that the inquiry will be completed before 2020, attempting to allay concerns that the inquiry’s current structure would mean it dragged on for decades, costing far more than its current £100 million budget.
Select Committee Hearing
The seemingly embattled inquiry staff then found themselves before a select committee answering questions about the last chair, Dame Lowell Goddard, and her behaviour. Much was made of the allegations against her – including racism and absenteeism – particularly because Goddard received a sizeable payout when she left the inquiry.
While answering questions one panel member, Dru Sharpling, told the committee that she had made Teresa May – then Home Secretary – and her team aware of the issues with Goddard in April 2016. This obviously contradicts the testimony of Amber Rudd and others who were questioned by the select committee about Goddard last month, with one MP calling their evidence “shabbily misleading” and leaving people again to wonder if the inquiry was fit for purpose.
The final revelation came last Wednesday, as it was revealed that Teresa May herself had known about the tensions within the inquiry for some time before Goddard stepped down. Although the Prime Minster brushed away questions about why she did not act, she was heavily criticised for allowing Goddard to leave with impunity, pocketing a large amount of tax payers’ money on her way out the door. It also casts doubt on the Prime Minister’s judgement and her impartiality, given that it was she who championed the inquiry from the outset.
Despite all of this, there is still belief amongst the various groups that the inquiry can be a success and that the victims and survivors can be given some form of closure. Hopefully this will be the last load of the inquiry’s dirty laundry.