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Theresa May could grant more powers to abuse probe

By Nigel Morris

The troubled inquiry into historical child sexual abuse will be given the authority to compel witnesses to give evidence in a major strengthening of its powers, Theresa May has disclosed.

The Home Secretary has faced criticism of her handling of the issue after two judges were forced to stand down as the panel's chair before it even started deliberating.

Survivors' groups have also warned they could refuse to co-operate unless the inquiry were granted wider powers to force witnesses to appear.

Ms May said yesterday she was taking heed of their views, indicating for the first time that she believed the inquiry should be given statutory power, including the ability to compel witnesses to give evidence.

She told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee: "The overwhelming message I'm getting from… survivors and survivors' representatives that I've been meeting, is that it's important to make sure we do get this right. I'm very clear the inquiry should have the powers of a statutory inquiry."

Ms May said that the Home Office had received more than 100 names of possible candidates to chair the inquiry examining allegations of historical sex abuse dating back to 1970.

When it was suggested the inquiry had got off to a "shaky" start, she said: "I would prefer to be in a different position and have a chairman who could ensure the inquiry was going at full pelt."

Ms May also announced that the investigation should have its terms of reference widened to go back to before the 1970s.

The inquiry came into being after Labour MP Simon Danczuk called on Leon Brittan to say what he knew about paedophile allegations passed to him when he was home secretary in the 1980s.

The files were given to Lord Brittan by the late Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, who was a long-standing campaigner against child abuse.

Mr Dickens's son has said the files ­- now missing - contained "explosive" paedophile allegations about powerful and famous figures, including politicians. The focus then moved to the wider issue of historical child sex abuse.

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