Child abuse inquiry has 'crumbled', Michael Mansfield says
The troubled child sex abuse inquiry has "crumbled" after successive failures by the Government to choose the right leader for the probe, an eminent barrister has warned.
Michael Mansfield QC said there had been a "dismal failure" to work with survivors groups when picking candidates to lead the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), leaving some fearing an ulterior motive was behind the doomed appointments.
His criticism comes amid calls for the inquiry's current chairwoman, Professor Alexis Jay, to be removed after one survivors' group withdrew from the probe branding it an "unpalatable circus".
The Government backed Prof Jay, the IICSA's fourth chairwoman, as it faced allegations of dodging responsibility behind a "smokescreen of independence" from Labour.
Mr Mansfield said the inquiry looked "extremely bad" following the departure of the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (Sosa), which described Prof Jay an "uninspiring leader".
"We've got to a stage now where, down the line, it's crumbled. There's no other word for it, it's crumbled," the barrister told the BBC's Newsnight.
"What has gone seriously wrong here is a dismal failure to consult with the survivors' groups from the beginning, about appointments and about the substantive materials that have to be assembled.
"Secondly, the actual appointments of the chair have been inappropriate, one after another. Just how many mistakes can you make? And of course some of the groups are saying: Have these mistakes been made on purpose?"
The IICSA has been plagued by problems since it was set up by then home secretary Theresa May in 2014 to investigate the handling of abuse by public bodies.
As well as criticism over its leadership concerns have been raised over its scale, leading to calls for it to be broken up.
Sosa represents victims affected by abuse at children's homes run by Lambeth Council in south London, which form part of one of 13 separate investigations within the inquiry's remit.
"We get our assurances that it's going to be alright on the night. Well, I'm afraid I don't accept that, I want to get in and see exactly how bad it is," said Mr Mansfield, who represented victims' families at the recent inquest into the Hillsborough disaster.
"It looks extremely bad from the outside and I can't see how ploughing on without the main actor [will be alright] - this is Hamlet without Hamlet."
On Monday Home Office Minister Sarah Newton told the Commons that the Government was "confident" in the ability of Prof Jay to lead the inquiry.
However Labour MP Lisa Nandy said it was "impossible" to see how the inquiry was effectively working and criticised Home Secretary Amber Rudd for not answering her urgent question in person.
"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?"
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, whose Streatham constituency is in Lambeth, called for the removal of Prof Jay. He previously said he was "appalled" by a suggestion that Sosa should be "compelled" to provide the evidence they have gathered to the inquiry.