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Child sex abuse inquiry head dismisses calls for it to 'forget the past'

Published 17/10/2016

Professor Alexis Jay, who leads the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse
Professor Alexis Jay, who leads the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse

The head of the national inquiry into child sexual abuse has dismissed calls for it to "forget the past" as she unveiled her strategy to complete most of its work by 2020.

Professor Alexis Jay insisted the probe will stick to its commitment to look at past and present failings.

She said that a traditional "public hearing" model would not be used for all of the institutions in England and Wales that will fall under scrutiny, saying a "one size fits all" approach would mean the inquiry would never finish its work.

Prof Jay set out four thematic strands that will be focused on as part of a strategy to make the inquiry "manageable and deliverable".

She said: "I want to focus on prevention without neglecting the past. Lessons have to be learnt from institutional failures and any cover-ups that have come to light.

"Only in this way can we look to the future with confidence. I regard calls for us to forget the past with a degree of scepticism, not least because some institutions may have the most to hide and a vested interest in not turning a spotlight on what happened in the past."

The inquiry, which has been mired in controversy since it was launched in 2014, was earmarked to take five years, but there have been suggestions it could run for as long as a decade at a cost of up to £100 million.

It is running 13 investigative strands spanning several decades. The inquiry said the four thematic strands that will underpin its work are cultural, structural, financial, and professional and political.

Prof Jay said a "one size fits all" approach to all its investigations would mean the inquiry would never finish its work.

She said: "I believe that the concerns that our terms of reference cannot be delivered are founded on an assumption that we must seek to replicate a traditional public inquiry in respect of each of the thousands of institutions that fall within our remit.

"We will do so for some, but we would never finish if we did it for all."

Prof Jay, the probe's fourth chairwoman, ordered a review of its approach to its investigations on her second day in the role in August.

In an interview recorded on Monday, she said the review was not yet complete and will be finished by the end of November.

She said: "Today is about outlining the strategy I intend to pursue to make the inquiry manageable and deliverable in a specified timescale."

She went on: "If we were to pursue the traditional public hearing model that people associate with inquiries of this kind to the thousands and thousands of institutions in England and Wales, we would fail, so there's no possibility that we can do that."

On the four strands, she said they are themes "we believe to be absolutely central to looking at institutions and their failings in the past, if any exist".

She added: "We would have public event elements to all of those. For example, we might ask certain council leaders or police and crime commissioners to account publicly for what they've done in relation to the subject of child sexual abuse within their areas of responsibility."

She said the inquiry is "still very interested in the past", adding: "In that sense I am not seeking any reduction or restriction in the terms of reference for this inquiry."

Asked if her announcement was a reduction in the scope and scale of the inquiry, she said: "It's certainly not reducing the terms of reference in the inquiry. We have no intention to propose that any aspect of the terms of reference is dropped.

"But we do intend to use different models and ways of working to deliver the terms of reference. In that respect we consider that we can complete a significant amount of the inquiry's work by the end of 2020."

She said no decisions have been made about the 13 investigations.

Asked if some of them could be cut, she said: "It really is impossible for me to say just now because it is quite a complex matter and we need to take the views of core participants and other relevant parties into account."

She said in the nine weeks since she was appointed the inquiry has continued its work and has been "open for business", but added there "have been distractions".

Prof Jay added: "We will do everything we can to restore the faith of victims and survivors as we go forward."

Prof Jay, a former senior social worker who previously carried out an inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, was questioned about claims that she could not be impartial about the profession.

She stood by her record, insisting that she was "no soft touch" on social workers or any other profession.

She stressed she intended to chair every part of the inquiry, adding that there is no professional group that is "entirely blameless" in failing to protect children from abuse.

"Not social workers, not teachers, not doctors, not lawyers and certainly not politicians or judges," she added.

Prof Jay conceded the first weeks in the role had been "a very testing time", but said she has "a lot of stamina" and "a lot of support from my excellent panel".

Last week it emerged that Dame Lowell Goddard, a New Zealand high court judge who previously chaired the inquiry, resigned days after the Home Office was made aware of concerns about her "professionalism and competence".

Dame Lowell has strenuously denied allegations against her, including claims that she used racist language, describing them as "falsities", "malicious" and part of a "vicious campaign".

Prof Jay did not discuss the allegations. She also said she could not comment on the circumstances of the departure of Ben Emmerson QC, who resigned as counsel to the inquiry last month.

Press Association

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