Child Sex Abuse Inquiry Receives Letters from Four Senior Lawyers

By Alan Travis
The Guardian
November 21, 2016

Yvette Cooper chairs the Commons home affairs select committee, which will meet in private on Friday to discuss the future of the inquiry, which is on its fourth chair. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

The Commons home affairs committee is to hold talks on the future direction of the independent inquiry into child sex abuse after receiving letters detailing the concerns of four senior lawyers who have quit the inquest.

A Home Office minister tried to reassure MPs on Monday that Prof Alexis Jay remains the right person to chair the troubled inquiry after the latest round of resignations and defections of survivors’ groups.

The Commons home affairs committee, chaired by Labour’s Yvette Cooper, is to meet in private on Tuesday to discuss the future of an inquiry that is now on its fourth chair, after the resignation of 17 lawyers and the withdrawal of several survivors’ groups.

The MPs are expected to order the publication later this week of letters from four barristers – including Hugh Davies QC, ex-deputy lead counsel to the inquiry – detailing their concerns over the conduct and management of the inquiry during the recent crises.

One of the letters is reported to repeat the allegations made by a Labour MP, Lisa Nandy, who used parliamentary privilege to name the senior counsel to the inquiry, Ben Emmerson, QC, as the person accused of an alleged sexual assault at the inquiry’s London headquarters. It is believed to criticise the inquiry’s handling of the sexual assault allegation.

Emmerson, who has been suspended from the inquiry, has denied the allegations as “categorically untrue” while the inquiry has said that no official complaint of sexual assault has been made.

The home affairs committee is not expected to call for the inquiry to be closed down but a clear cross-party statement calling for Jay to be replaced by a judge and for its scope to be scaled back could prove highly influential.

Nandy secured an urgent Commons question on Monday over the latest developments surrounding the inquiry including the withdrawal of the 600-strong Shirley Oaks survivors’ association – the largest group represented at the inquiry.

In their resignation statement on Friday the group, which represents survivors of child sex abuse at Shirley Oaks care home in Lambeth, south London, said the inquiry had become “an unpalatable circus which has stumbled and lurched from crisis to crisis”.

In the Commons, Sarah Newton, a junior Home Office minster, said the government remained confident that Jay was the right person to take it forward. She said that Shirley Oaks was only one of the victims’ groups represented at the inquiry and appealed to them to re-engage. “I am confident, as is the prime minister, as is the home secretary, in the ability of Professor Jay to lead this inquiry,” Newton told MPs. “She has a distinguished career in social work and a longstanding dedication to child protection.

“She led the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, where she scrutinised the work of social workers, and proved her capability to uncover failings across institutions and professions. She is the right person to take this work forward.”

But Nandy said it was the last chance for ministers to get a grip: “They have lost seven senior lawyers, three chairs and several survivors’ groups and it is now impossible to see that this inquiry is still [operating] effectively.

“This may be the last chance that the prime minister and her home secretary have to rescue the inquiry that she set up, from collapse. Will she now stop hiding behind the smokescreen of independence (and) recognise that she has responsibility for this inquiry’s success and get a grip on it?”

She found support from the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, who said the inquiry’s independent status did not mean that the Home Office could take no responsibility at all and allow the inquiry to run into the sands.








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