| 8.3°C Belfast

Abuse inquiry 'long and complex'


Home Secretary Theresa May has also been considering the format of the inquiry

Home Secretary Theresa May has also been considering the format of the inquiry

Home Secretary Theresa May has also been considering the format of the inquiry

The long-delayed inquiry into historic child sex abuse is to be reconstituted under a new chair with tough new powers to compel witnesses to attend and provide evidence.

Home Secretary Theresa May named New Zealand High Court judge Lowell Goddard to head the inquiry, which lost its first two chairs after questions were raised over their links with establishment figures.

Justice Goddard promised to hold a "robust and independent inquiry" which would hold to account those responsible for failing abused children.

Announcing her appointment to the House of Commons, Mrs May said that Justice Goddard had been selected after a search that involved more than 150 candidates, "due diligence" on potential conflicts of interest and consultation with victim groups.

The existing panel is being dissolved, with members able to reapply for positions, Mrs May told MPs. The terms of reference are also being revisited, potentially meaning that investigations could go back beyond 1970, though Mrs May indicated they were unlikely to be extended - as some have demanded - beyond England and Wales.

And crucially, the new probe will be put on a statutory footing under the Inquiries Act 2005, giving it the power to force witnesses to appear and answer questions and to hand over any documents it demands.

The nomination of the new chair was welcomed by campaigners, including some who had challenged the Home Secretary's two previous choices. Baroness Butler-Sloss stood down in July last year amid questions over the role played by her late brother, Lord Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s, while her replacement Dame Fiona Woolf resigned following a barrage of criticism over her friendship with former home secretary Leon Brittan, who died last month.

Labour MP Simon Danczuk said he had "confidence" in the selection process and believed the inquiry - ordered last year amid claims of a paedophile ring involving establishment figures in the 1980s - was now going in the "right direction". Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said Justice Goddard would "enhance the whole credibility of the inquiry".

Alison Millar, of law firm Leigh Day, which is representing dozens of abuse victims, said they welcomed the disbanding of the panel: "We are very pleased to see that the inquiry will have a much wider remit and the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.

"We welcome in principle the distance that will be put between this judge and the British establishment where it has, in the past, proved difficult to find a suitable senior judge without links to people involved in the inquiry itself."

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children's Society, said: "The Home Secretary's announcement of a new inquiry into child sexual abuse is welcome. We support the appointment of a new chairperson and new panel with statutory powers. This is a fresh start and represents a new opportunity that absolutely must not be wasted."

The new chair , who was appointed to the New Zealand High Court in 1995, will appear for a pre-appointment grilling by MPs on the cross-party House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on February 11.

In a statement issued through the Home Office, Justice Goddard said: "I am honoured to be asked to lead this crucial Inquiry - and am well aware of the scale of the undertaking. The Inquiry will be long, challenging and complex.

"The many, many survivors of child sexual abuse, committed over decades, deserve a robust and thorough investigation of the appalling crimes perpetrated upon them. It is vitally important that their voices are now being heard.

"I am committed to leading a robust and independent inquiry that will act on these matters without fear or favour and will hold those responsible to account.

"The outcome of the Inquiry must ensure that the children of today and of the future will not only be protected from such dreadful exploitation but also empowered to combat it."

Labour gave its backing to the new format, but shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper noted the inquiry had had "three false starts" since it was first announced 213 days ago, and warned: "We cannot afford for the Home Secretary to fail on this again."

Mrs May said she had met with many victims and their representatives since making her last statement to Parliament on the issue in November.

She told MPs: "Let me be clear. I am now more determined than ever to expose the people behind these despicable crimes and the people in institutions that knew about abuse but didn't act - that failed to help when it was their duty, sometimes their very purpose to do so - a nd the people and institutions that in some cases positively covered up evidence of abuse."

Mrs May said the decision to dissolve the existing panel "has nothing to do with their ability or integrity" - and encouraged them to submit their names for consideration for its replacement. They have been asked to produce a report on their work so far.

The inquiry would have "the full co-operation of government and access to all relevant information, including secret information where appropriate", she said, and all departments, agencies and councils would be formally reminded of the need for "full transparency".

The Home Secretary said a dedicated police team - under Operation Hydrant headed by Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the Association of Chief Police Officers' lead on child protection and abuse investigations - would follow up any evidence produced by the inquiry of criminal offences.

She thanked abuse survivors "for their patience, their determination and their willingness to help us to get this right".

Ben Emmerson QC, who will continue as legal counsel to the inquiry, said Justice Goddard had gone through a selection and due diligence process of "unprecedented depth and detail" which showed she had the "courage, independence and vision" needed to run the investigation.

"Justice Goddard has all the key qualities necessary to lead the Inquiry's work - absolute independence from the executive, a proven track record of holding state and non-state institutions to account, and the forensic skills necessary to digest and analyse vast quantities of evidence," said Mr Emmerson.

Mrs May told MPs that cover-up allegations against the chair made in a blog had been discussed with the New Zealand attorney general and found to have "absolutely no truth" in them.

New Zealand's attorney-general, Christopher Finlayson QC, said in a statement: "Justice Goddard is a very senior and highly respected member of the New Zealand judiciary. The New Zealand government congratulates her on her appointment to chair this important review."

Daily Headlines & Evening Telegraph Newsletter

Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

Top Videos