Victims Attack "Tokenistic" Inquiry into Organised Child Exploitation

By Jason Farrell
Sky News
September 24, 2020

The latest strand of the IICSA is looking at child sexual exploitation by organised networks in England and Wales. File pic

A top lawyer speaking on behalf of victims has led an extraordinary intervention into an inquiry on historical child sexual abuse, saying "we speak with one voice".

Four days into the latest hearing of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), the review team has been told "it is simply not good enough".

Victims groups believe they are being silenced and the evidence is being skewed towards the institutions that failed to protect them.

The latest strand of the IICSA is looking at child sexual exploitation by organised networks in England and Wales.

But this morning the hearing gave time for a joint statement from victims groups who accused the inquiry of "a profound imbalance in the evidence", saying a large number of institutions had been heard but very few victims to challenge their narrative.

"You are not hearing from a single one of those who at a national level represent and work with victims and survivors," said Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, speaking on behalf of victims. "Why are we hearing from one side and not the other?"

"Why are we hearing from the institutions, why are we hearing from witness after witness, with corporate speak and assertions about how well they are doing in the fight against CSE without the ability to really probe and push back against them?"

Campaigners say they have been warning about this since the beginning of the year.

Maggie Oliver is best known as the detective-turned-whistleblower who resigned from Greater Manchester Police in late 2012 in order to expose the Rochdale grooming scandal.

"Up to now this inquiry is turning out to be exactly what I had feared all along: a platform for the institutional voices of police, social services, CPS to regurgitate jargon and platitudes that things were wrong in the past but are all great now," she told Sky News.

"Many of these so-called 'experts' have never been in a room with a survivor of abuse in their lives, and are just towing the party line, covering up the failures with meaningless jargon and statistics."

"It's a total outrage," she added.

Ms Oliver said she wished the money "wasted" on the inquiry had instead been spent on providing care for child abuse survivors.

The amount of time allocated for the segment on organised child sex abuse is also under attack.

Ms Gallagher QC told the inquiry, which is being held on Zoom: "Three weeks were allocated to allegations concerning two male Catholic boarding schools but only two weeks allocated to child abuse in organised networks described by the Children's Commissioner as affecting every city, town and village in the UK.

"One of those I represent said to me this morning 'isn't this a case of some victims are more important than others and is this even a class issue?'"

Ms Gallagher QC acts for the Centre for Women's Justice but was also speaking on behalf of other parties including Parents Against Child Exploitation, The Maggie Oliver Foundation, Sarah Champion MP and Bristol Council.

She said the representation of victims was "tokenistic" and one victim who did give evidence was rushed by the inquiry, ironically when she was talking about the difficulties of giving evidence at a criminal trial.

Defending the approach taken, lead counsel Henrietta Hill QC said victims had been encouraged to come forward from six geographical areas where the inquiry is focusing.

However she said it was "understandable" they couldn't identify any who could give evidence on the themes being considered "given the very contemporaneous focus of this investigation".

She added "there would have been significant safeguarding issues".

"The inquiry has requested evidence from institutions in those geographical areas. It is important that that evidence is tested properly and this is why we have devoted a whole day to each of those areas," she said.

"The inquiry is seeking to test the institutional evidence by council to the inquiry questioning those witnesses who give oral evidence, by seeking evidence from victims and survivors in those areas."

This included a number of charities and campaigners working with victims, she said.

IICSA chair Professor Alexis Jay said she would consider the submission and respond as soon as possible.








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