The shock decision of Dame Lowell Goddard to quit the child sex abuse inquiry has been compounded by her very terse statement on why she resigned.
Survivors have been suddenly let down by someone who only two years ago committed herself to a five year comprehensive inquiry that would cover every aspect of child sex abuse from VIP paedophiles to institutions as varied as children’s homes, religious orders, schools and colleges.
It already has a packed programme including a controversial hearing of the facts surrounding the allegations against Lord Janner; the scandal in Rochdale around Sir Cyril Smith, Lambeth Council, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England to name but a few. It was also, I understand, to look at the Westminster paedophile ring and Operation Midland but not until 2018.
So her decision to leave at this crucial moment when the inquiry was starting to get into its stride is more perplexing. Her statement in full read :
“I announce with regret my decision to resign as Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, effective from today.
“When I was first approached through the British High Commissioner in Wellington in late 2014, and asked to consider taking up the role, I had to think long and hard about it. After carefully discussing the matter with the Home Secretary and her Officials and seeking the counsel of those people in New Zealand whose opinions mattered to me, I decided that I should undertake the role, given my relevant experience and track record in the area. It was however an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family.
“The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.
“While it has been a struggle in many respects I am confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard. I have nothing but the greatest of respect for the victims and survivors and have particularly enjoyed working with the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel which I established.”
What I find particularly perplexing is her implication that she should never have been appointed to continue the inquiry in the first place. It suggests that she did not think things through.
The inquiry, following the resignations of Baroness Butler Sloss and Fiona Woolf because of perceived conflicts of interest, had already been remodelled – changing it from an independent panel to a statutory judicial inquiry. Its work and costs have gone up enormously and Lowell Goddard, as The Times pointed out, has taken time off and obviously misses her family.
The volume of work must be enormous – I know from sitting on a much smaller independent panel myself which I cannot talk about – that historic inquiries generate masses of documents.
In the child abuse area a chair also needs to have a tough skin and a focused mind – since he or she is entering a minefield of controversy – and will face a barrage of complaints from a small but vocal minority who don’t believe that most of the child abuse took place – and most survivors are liars or bounty hunters.
Remember there are websites devoted to the idea that Jimmy Savile was totally innocent and everything has been made up by disturbed people. After all as Dame Janet Smith found the BBC either didn’t know or couldn’t bring itself to believe that he was a paedophile.
Therefore it seems to me that if she thinks there is something wrong in the process she should say so and she owes the public who paid her a lot of money to chair this inquiry a full and frank explanation.
Reports suggested to me that her decision to go was not sudden. She has been seen as a little distant from event ( and not just physically ). There have been suggestions that Home Office officials have tried to capture the direction of an independent inquiry and other suggestions that Ben Emmerson, the counsel in charge of the inquiry, may have had too much power.
Whatever happened we need a full explanation. And action from the Home Office and Theresa May, the PM who originally set up the inquiry as home secretary , to make sure investigations and hearings go ahead regardless.