A number of commentators have this week spoken out, inaccurately, about the Inquiry Chair and the way in which the Inquiry will conduct its work. I want to correct those inaccuracies.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is unprecedented in both size and scope. It came about as a result of catastrophic failures of institutions to recognise and address the extent of child sexual abuse in England and Wales. Those failures destroyed the lives of children and left them growing up in a society that let them down.
We know of high profile cases where abusers, such as Jimmy Savile, used their positions of trust within institutions to gain unfettered access to children. And in towns like Rotherham, Oxford and Rochdale, we know that organised gangs and networks have targeted vulnerable children for sexual abuse. We also know that the widespread sexual abuse of children has taken place outside of the media spotlight, in the care system, in residential schools, in custody and in other institutional settings. And we know from recent research by the Children’s Commissioner that only around one in eight children who are sexually abused are ever identified by statutory agencies.
As Chair of the Inquiry, I have been asked to investigate the full range of institutions in England and Wales to identify the failures which may have contributed to the sexual abuse of children. The Inquiry is also asked to make recommendations that will help to keep children safe in the future.
In order to discharge the challenging mandate in a timely and effective manner, I have announced thirteen investigations to date. From some of the commentary this week it might appear that the Inquiry’s work relates primarily to individuals of public prominence. In fact, the significant majority of the Inquiry’s work does not relate to individuals of public prominence.
The Inquiry is examining allegations of past and ongoing failures to protect children in schools, children’s homes, secure accommodation, local authority care, and the responses of institutions, including the police, health service, Crown Prosecution Service, churches and other religious institutions to allegations of child sexual abuse. We are also investigating broader contemporary issues, such as the role of the internet in facilitating child sexual abuse.
Over the last three weeks, preliminary hearings into four of these investigations have taken place: investigations into Lambeth Council; Rochdale Council; The Anglican Church; and an investigation into institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse involving Lord Greville Janner.
Each of these investigations, as well as the other nine, is focused on the extent to which a range of institutions have failed, or have continued to fail, to protect children from sexual abuse or failed to respond adequately to reports of abuse. Inevitably, that focus requires an examination of the conduct of individuals to determine the extent of any institutional failures.
All of our investigations will be approached with diligence and with objectivity. In every single instance, I will ensure the Inquiry examines all of the issues fairly and impartially. We will consider all relevant evidence, take testimony from witnesses and publish a report for each investigation which sets out in clear terms what the evidence shows.
Those who have claimed this week that the Inquiry will only consider the perspectives of victims and survivors, and exclude those of others affected by allegations of child sexual abuse are wrong. Counsel to the Inquiry, Ben Emmerson QC, noted at the Inquiry’s first preliminary hearing that the Inquiry will need to remain sensitive to the particular needs of vulnerable complainants without unduly privileging their testimony. At the same time, he said the Inquiry will need to recognise the damage that can be caused by false accusations of sexual abuse, without hesitating to make findings against individuals and institutions if justified by the evidence. I agree with that analysis. I am committed to ensuring that we hear all relevant testimony, including from victims and survivors as well as from those affected by false allegations of abuse. As I announced in November last year, the Inquiry intends to explore the balance which must be struck between encouraging the reporting of child sexual abuse and protecting the rights of the accused.
I am determined to get the process of the Inquiry right.
I will ensure that all relevant evidence is considered. As is standard practice in public inquiries, questions to witnesses will normally be asked by Counsel to the Inquiry whose role will include, where necessary, the exploration of witness credibility. Affected parties will not ordinarily be permitted to ask questions of witnesses directly, but as I said in my Opening Statement in July 2015, affected parties are entitled to make an application to ask direct questions and I will grant those applications if fairness requires it.
The task for the Inquiry is to ensure that children are given the care and protection they need and deserve. The sexual abuse of children over successive generations has left permanent scars, not only on the victims themselves, but on society as a whole. It is the inherent right of every child to experience a childhood free of sexual abuse and intimidation – to be allowed to grow up and develop without trauma.
There is no doubt that the task the Inquiry has embarked upon is immense. But the scale and magnitude of the problem of child sexual abuse means there is no easy fix or one size fits all approach.
The Inquiry is the opportunity to get to the heart of one of the biggest challenges for our generation. I truly hope that through our work we mark the beginning of a new era in child protection.
Hon. Dame Lowell Goddard DNZM is the Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
Details of the 13 investigations can be found on our investiations page