Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Home News UK

Fourth chairwoman of abuse inquiry comes under fire amid 'crisis' claims

Published 18/11/2016

The inquiry has had four different chairwomen since it was set up in 2014
The inquiry has had four different chairwomen since it was set up in 2014

A child sex abuse inquiry panel member has defended its fourth chairwoman after o ne of the largest victims' groups involved withdrew from the probe - branding it an "unpalatable circus".

Drusilla Sharpling insisted Professor Alexis Jay was "ideally" qualified for the job as t he Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (Sosa) and Labour MP Chuka Umunna called for her to be replaced.

Earlier, Sosa delivered a blistering critique of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) - describing it as a "stage-managed event" which has "lurched from crisis to crisis".

Sosa represents victims affected by abuse at children's homes run by Lambeth Council in south London.

It said it feared Prof Jay is "an uninspiring leader" and it does not believe she is the right person to uncover the truth behind allegations of historical abuse.

Downing Street and Home Secretary Amber Rudd have voiced their support and Ms Sharpling said Prof Jay's work exposing prolonged abuse in Rotherham meant she had the expertise needed.

"I think she is one of the few people who is ideally qualified for the job," Ms Sharpling told the BBC.

"This is not about legal acumen, we've got good lawyers already on our team, but those that can exercise judgment with the expertise that they've got. That is the important factor here.

"We want to hold institutions to account and we are planning to do so."

Ms Sharpling also said she was "very sorry" Sosa had withdrawn but added the Lambeth part of the inquiry was one of 12 and the IICSA was aiming to publish an interim report by 2018.

Sosa chairman Raymond Stevenson said members voted on Saturday that they no longer wanted to be part of the inquiry.

"The inquiry needs to sort itself out. They need to get rid of Alexis Jay, who's been parachuted in by the Home Office. She's not the right person," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna said he did not have confidence in Prof Jay as chair of the inquiry and wanted to see a judge of High Court level or above appointed in her place.

"Can Prof Jay bring the heft and forensic capacity of a judge to this inquiry, which is what is needed? I'm not confident that she can," he said.

But Peter Saunders, founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, who sits on the inquiry's victims advisory panel, told Today: "Shirley Oaks is one group. Napac as a charity hears every year from many, many thousands - in fact probably more than 100,000 people have been in touch with Napac since our support line was launched.

"So let's not be distracted by just one group."

An inquiry spokesman said: "We are sorry to hear that Shirley Oaks Survivors Association have decided to withdraw from the investigation into children in the care of Lambeth Council.

"Our investigation will continue and will examine the scale and nature of the abuse that may have taken place under the care of Lambeth Council with pace, confidence and clarity."

The inquiry, which was first established by then home secretary Theresa May in 2014, has been beset by problems and controversy.

Earlier this week it emerged that another senior lawyer at the probe had resigned.

Described as the most ambitious public inquiry ever launched in England and Wales, it is running several investigative strands spanning decades.

There have been suggestions that it could cost more than £100 million.

Following her resignation earlier this year, former chairwoman Dame Lowell Goddard said there was an "inherent problem" in the inquiry's "sheer scale and size".

Last month Prof Jay unveiled her strategy to complete most of the inquiry's work by 2020.

A Downing Street spokesman said the Prime Minister continued to have full confidence in Prof Jay and did not believe the inquiry was in crisis.

Asked whether Mrs May now regretted the way she set up the inquiry while home secretary, the spokesman replied: "No."

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph