Don't Shred Evidence, Judge Warns Ahead of Child Sex Abuse Inquiry

By Sandra Laville
The Guardian
July 9, 2015

Justice Lowell Goddard, who is chairing the inquiry, will open proceedings with an hour-long statement outlining the work ahead. Photograph: Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images

The long-awaited independent inquiry into child sexual abuse opens on Thursday in London amid renewed warnings to the cabinet secretary, religious leaders and public bodies not to shred documents which might be needed in evidence.

Justice Lowell Goddard, the New Zealand judge recruited as chair after two previous appointees resigned over their apparent links to the establishment, will open proceedings with an hour-long statement outlining the work ahead. She has written to Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the civil service and cabinet secretary, warning that there must be no “premature destruction of files or records that later become required as evidence”.

Goddard has issued similar warnings to religious leaders, chief constables, the NHS and local authority leaders and listed the types of documents she will be seeking as the inquiry continues.

These include reports, reviews, briefings, minutes and notes of correspondence relating to allegations about individuals, institutions, organisations and public bodies who may have been involved in or had knowledge of child sexual abuse.

After Goddard opens the inquiry on Thursday at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London, thousands of victims of child sexual abuse in the past, who have been waiting to give evidence of their experiences, will be able to start giving testimony. Phone lines will be opened and regional centres identified for victims to disclose their experiences in private, if they wish.

Goddard will reveal on Thursday how the inquiry is going to be run, the timescales of the hearings, both public and private, how evidence will be gathered and which institutions and areas of public life will be examined. The inquiry has been set up to consider the extent to which state and non-state institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, to consider whether these failings have been addressed and to identify what steps need to be taken to protect children in future.

Her opening statement is also expected to announce which victims representatives have been chosen to become part of the victims and survivors consultative panel – which has been set up by the inquiry – after a huge number of applications to take part.

Lucy Duckworth, chair of victim support group Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (Macsas), welcomed the opening of the inquiry: “It is a momentous day now that the inquiry is finally opening and evidence can finally be taken. We are all looking forward to drawing a line under all the false starts in the past.”


But controversy continues over Goddard’s comments that survivors lacked the objectivity required to be full quasi-judicial members of the inquiry.

One group of victims, known as the White Flowers campaign group, demanded Goddard withdraw her comment, saying it stigmatised victims of child abuse. They are being represented by Michael Mansfield QC, and are now seeking core participant status in the process.

Phil Frampton, of the White Flowers group, said of the inquiry’s opening: “This is the beginning of the beginning of the beginning.

“There is a long way to go. We will do everything to ensure that victims and survivors have a strong voice throughout.”

A team of specialist police officers who are part of Operation Hydrant, the overarching police inquiry into child sexual abuse in the past by prominent individuals, will be liaising with the Goddard inquiry. Allegations of abuse made by individuals will be passed to the police team. The scale of abuse being reported to the police nationally is unprecedented, and the inquiry process is likely only to increase the workload for the police service.

Simon Bailey, the national police lead on child abuse, said last month that by the end of this year officers anticipate they will be investigating more than 70,000 cases of child sexual abuse; an increase of 88% from 2012.

Bailey revealed that police across the country were investigating 1,433 men, including 261 high-profile individuals, over allegations they abused children in the past.

The independent inquiry was set up by the home secretary Theresa May a year ago, but has been plagued by delays and controversy. Its first chair Lady Butler-Sloss stood down in July last year amid questions over the fact her late brother, Lord Havers, was attorney general in the 1980s.

Her replacement, Dame Fiona Woolf, resigned following criticism over her “establishment links”, most notably in relation to the former home secretary Leon Brittan, who died in January.

After pressure from some victims, the panel set up to run the inquiry was disbanded in March, and the inquiry was reformed and given statutory powers to compel witnesses to testify.

The home secretary also extended the period of time covered by the wide-ranging inquiry, which will examine the extent to which state and non-state institutions failed in their duty of care to protect children from abuse and exploitation.

May said she had listened to demands from the survivors and there would be no cutoff point for investigations. She also said no individual or institution should be able to fall through the gaps because of “geographical boundaries”.

Tom Watson, the Labour MP who has campaigned to shed light on child abuse, said: “It is a year since the home secretary announced there would be an independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.

“This inquiry must meticulously track down and analyse the evidence of failures not just within public services, and the child protection system but across all institutions whose failings contributed directly to what we can now see is an epidemic of abuse.

“To make improvements in how we keep children safe requires effective answers as the failings and weaknesses in institutions become clearer. Nothing should wait if it does not need to; the inquiry must never be an excuse for inaction among policymakers or police.”

Recent figures released by the inquiry show that between July 2014 and the end of March this year, ?1,261,316 has been spent on staffing, office accommodation, IT services, legal costs, travel and training.








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