Child Abuse Inquiry "to Continue" Despite Survivors" Withdrawal

By Damien Gayle
The Guardian
November 18, 2016

The social work background of Prof Alexis Jay, the fourth chair of the inquiry, has raised concerns among survivors. Photograph: Dave Higgens/PA

The troubled national inquiry into child abuse has mounted a fightback after a large survivors’ group withdrew from participation, condemning it as a “stage-managed and contrived” investigation.

In a series of television interviews, senior panel member Dru Sharpling said the inquiry would continue. She apologised to hundreds of victims of child abuse in Lambeth children’s homes – the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association – who announced they were pulling out of the proceedings on Friday because it was “failing publicly and tragically”.

But Sharpling insisted the investigations would go on without the group. She said: “The Lambeth investigation will continue. I am very sorry that they have decided to leave. I hope that they will come back, but we will continue to do that work. There is evidence being forwarded to us now which enables us to undertake this inquiry and I hope that, as time goes by, their confidence in the inquiry improves, as others have.”

It is understood she was referring to the documents being submitted on a weekly basis to the inquiry by Lambeth council as a result of its statutory powers to demand information. Lambeth, she said, was one of 13 investigations the inquiry was carrying out and its importance could not be elevated above any of the other institutions being examined.

Sharpling suggested the inquiry maintained the confidence of other victims. She said: “There are seven other organisations who we are working with and over 150 individual victims and survivors in relation to our ‘public hearings project’,” she said. “People are also coming forward for our other project, the ‘truth project’. They are giving accounts of child sexual abuse all over the country as we speak. We’ve had universally good feedback from that and it is an important element of the inquiry.”

A spokesman for the prime inister, Theresa May, made clear she unreservedly backed the inquiry under its chair, Prof Alexis Jay.

“We are going to be continuing with the inquiry,” said Sharpling. “The work is so important. The more people come forward particularly to give accounts of child sexual abuse, it gives us the passion that we need to take it forward … although it has been a difficult start for this inquiry, we are determined to see it through no matter what.”

Sharpling defended Jay after Labour MP Chuka Umunna – whose constituents were abused in Lambeth children’s homes – demanded that the former social worker should stand down as chair in favour of a senior judge. “In Rotherham, no organ of government, no institution, had uncovered the scale and the depravity of child sexual abuse that had occurred over many years,” Sharpling said. “One woman uncovered that abuse – and that was Alexis Jay. I think she is one of the few people who is ideally qualified for the job.”

Sharpling’s public statements came after weeks in which the inquiry has been rocked by a series of departures of leading lawyers, allegations of bullying and racism by its former chair Lowell Goddard, the announcement that a public hearing into the late Greville Janner would be postponed and on Friday the departure of the Shirley Oaks survivors from the process.

Umunna, who until now has been supportive of Jay as chair, said he had lost confidence in her ability to run the investigation and she should step down in favour of a senior judge. “There has been an ongoing concern about the fact that she has come from three decades of social work,” he said. “For many of the survivors that is a problem because many of the perpetrators came from that profession. Now you can’t just sweep that under the table and it’s never been dealt with by the panel properly.”

In an article for the Times Jay said she was “genuinely saddened by the [Shirley Oak Survivor Group’s] decision, but “the inquiry’s door would remain open to it”.

Raymond Stevenson, who set up the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, explained why they had finally decided to withdraw after twice threatening to pull out of proceedings. “Having watched the IICSA unpalatable circus stumble and lurch from crisis to crisis … it no longer matters whether we think the inquiry is just another stitch-up because it is clearly a botch job that needs a drastic overhaul if it is ever to achieve its initial objectives,” he said in a statement.

Stevenson said he was not comfortable putting his members before an inquiry which was “failing tragically, failing publicly”. He said: “The inquiry needs to sort itself out. They need to get rid of Alexis Jay, who has been parachuted in by the Home Office, and we need to get someone else.”

He also raised concerns about the presence of so many Home Office staff on the inquiry – 36 of the 183 staff are Home Office officials. He said: “For any inquiry to be truly independent and engender faith in its integrity, the Home Office either needs to come clean about its own role in covering up historical child abuse and staff the inquiry with independent employees instead of its secondees or hand over the task of overseeing the inquiry to a less tainted government department.”

Despite Sharpling’s confidence that other victims supported the process, Phil Frampton, who is a core participant in the inquiry as part of the Whiteflowers group of victims, said the departure of Shirley Oaks came amid “seething discontent” among survivors over the lack of material support for them and the “contemptuous” way they were being dealt with.

He called for survivors to be fully funded to attend all meetings with their legal representatives, for guaranteed access to counselling from the first moment preliminary hearings began and a clear timetable of hearings to come.

The announcement that Shirley Oaks survivors had formally withdrawn was the latest setback for the public investigation. It is on its fourth chair since it was established in 2014 and has had at least three people resign from its legal team.








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