Child Abuse Inquiry to Cut Number of Public Hearings

By Sandra Laville
The Guardian
December 16, 2016

Prof Alexis Jay, chair of the child abuse inquiry, says she wants to refocus investigation on preventing abuse happening again. Photograph: Martin Hunter

Public inquiry style hearings into key institutions in the national child abuse investigation are being reduced to speed up the process and refocus on preventing abuse now and in the future.

In an internal review published on Friday, the inquiry chair, Prof Alexis Jay, says she is committed to pursuing all 13 investigations into non-recent abuse within institutions. But in some cases, the review reveals, there will only be one public hearing into a key area or institution, although the single hearings are likely to last days or weeks.

The apparent move away from a public inquiry in the mould of the Leveson and Bloody Sunday inquiries may anger some participants and their lawyers, who pressed the then home secretary, Theresa May, for a statutory public inquiry in which witnesses would be forced to answer questions under oath.

In 2017 four public inquiry-style hearings will be held: two on child migrants, one on abuse within the English Benedictine congregation of the Roman Catholic church, and one on Knowl View school in Rochdale, which was linked to abuse by the late MP Cyril Smith.

Each public hearing is likely to last weeks it is understood. In the case of child migrants two weeks have been set aside for each hearing.

But key hearings into the late Greville Janner, the Anglican church and Westminster will not be held until 2018 at the earliest.

Jay’s review said the inquiry had failed to demonstrate progress overall and that she did not think it had carried out its work in a “timely, inclusive and transparent” way.

Cyril Smith, the former MP for Rochdale. Photograph: Nils Jorgensen/Rex

“It was apparent to me and the panel that the inquiry could not be delivered through a traditional public inquiry approach alone,” she said. “Children are being abused and exploited today – we cannot wait until the inquiry has concluded before it has a positive impact on their lives … I am determined the inquiry makes substantial progress by 2020.”

Jay’s review also revealed that an increased programme of research and public seminars which will aim to deliver evidence about the current state of child protection. These will be based on research into how child sexual exploitation networks are formed - including interviews with perpetrators - and will advise on how to prevent abuse taking place.

The programme will include a survey of the scale of sexual abuse in residential schools and research with the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches to understand how national safeguarding policies had been implemented at a local level. Seminars will be held on the health sector, the criminal justice system and “the social and political narratives about child abuse”.

Jay said the inquiry had two equally important tasks: to unravel institutional failures of the past and make meaningful recommendations to keep children safe.

Friday’s review comes after a troubled period for the inquiry that has seen the departure of senior lawyers, and the decision by the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association – one of the biggest victims’ groups – to pull out of the investigation into Lambeth council because it had lost faith in the inquiry and wanted a more forensic, judge-led investigation.

The review reveals there will be only two public hearings into the Anglican church. The Church of England bishop Peter Ball was sentenced to 32 months in prison last year for abusing 18 young men between 1977 and 1992.

The inquiry into the Roman Catholic Benedictine congregation will hold one full public hearing in December 2017. Future public hearings – the review does not specify how many – in connection with the archdiocese of Birmingham and the wider Catholic church will follow in 2018.

In February 2017 the first public hearing will begin into the child migration programmes that sent children to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. There will be a second child migrant hearing in July.

In October 2017 a single public hearing will be held in relation to the Cambridge House boys’ hostel and Knowl View school in Rochdale, where more than 25 pupils alleged they were abused by Smith and others.

The review said the Janner investigation, which has been delayed due to an ongoing investigation by Leicestershire police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, was considering 100,000 pages of material. The public hearing will not be held until at least 2018.

Jay said a “robust delivery plan” was required to fulfil the terms of the abuse inquiry with a renewed focus on identifying the most important actions to protect children today.

“Since becoming chair I have spoken to many people who have been affected in some way by child sexual abuse … The message to me is loud and clear: this inquiry must deliver on its promise to expose what went wrong in the past and provide a safer future for today’s children,” she said.

Jay said the issue of abuse within football was being monitored and that she would request that the Football Association provide her with the findings of its review into allegations of historical abuse.








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