Given the nature of my past work with abused and neglected children and indeed the perpetrators I have been giving thought to the difficult start the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has had. Set up in July 2014 its first Chair, Baroness Butler-Sloss was, to my thinking, an excellent choice. She is an individual with an astute legal brain and much compassion. I should here declare that, while I have not met the Baroness, I have given expert evidence before her when she was sitting as a judge in the family division of the High Court. She resigned as the Inquiry chair because of victim group concern that she is the sister of a former attorney general Sir Michael Havers. Sir Michael was attorney general when some of the allegations were being investigated in the 1980’s. There was never any suggestion that Sir Michael himself had behaved inappropriately or interfered with any of the investigations. It was the closeness of the family link that unfortunately unsettled the victim groups. With the integrity I would never have doubted she resigned.
Likewise Baroness Butler-Sloss’s successor Dame Fiona Wolf, another lawyer and Lord Mayor of London, felt she had to resign due to closeness with establishment figures including Lord Leon Brittan with whom she had lunch on a number of occasions. Leon Brittan, a Conservative minister and later European Commissioner, had himself had been the subject of sexual allegations. The investigations were closed without any charges ever having been brought. Again victims groups were concerned and unhappy at the closeness implied by this social contact. So it was that she too resigned.
To avoid further allegations of establishment links, the trawl for a successor took the government to New Zealand and led to the appointment of Justice Lowell Goddard, a serving High Court Judge in that country. If my memory serves me correctly that was I believe in February last year. In August this year she too resigned citing personal reasons. Professor Alexis Jay with a social work background and the first non-lawyer to be appointed took over in August this year. I find it hard to believe that Alexis Jay will not become yet another social work victim of an impossible task.
There have also been high profile resignations of legal panel members.
I have provided this more extended history to indicate the complexity of managing this matter. The Inquiry itself is enormous and some feel unwieldly involving as it does some 13 subordinate inquiries as widely spread as looking at abuse in the Anglican and Catholic churches, Local Authorities and childrens’ homes, abuse by public figures in Westminster and what are referred to as contemporary concerns such as internet abuse and paedophile rings and gangs.
It has to be said that there is a valid logical thrust to having an overarching look at the disparate lessons to be learned. However, I feel that it is also in the emphasis on this logic itself and in the very enormity of the task which, when taken together with what I see as an under-analysis of the component parts, that the enterprise is rendered likely to be both costly and to fail both past victims and to meet the challenges of protecting children in the future. There are just too many disparate even competing needs to be met and targets to be achieved. The needs of the past victims whose numbers are legion, are naturally great as is their sense of grievance and pain. This pain is however necessarily an emotional and affective matter not logical and its expression will be as varied as the personalities and experiences they have. Each will harbour a different view of what justice for them might be. If the primary function of the Inquiry cannot reasonably be achieved even at the likely long term cost of this inquiry, would not the resources and skill of the inquiry team not better be diverted to designing and costing systems that would be more protective of future generations of children?
There is another unintended consequence of the current emphasis on Child Sexual Abuse and that is that it eclipses the horrors and consequences of others sorts of abuse – Physical, Emotional and the Cinderella offence of Neglect which, despite superficial appearances, can never be put right by a bath, a meal and some clean clothes.