The statement by Alexis Jay, the chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, should be welcomed as an important step in the right direction.
It makes it very clear to the naysayers – from Harvey Proctor to The Sun newspaper – that the inquiry is not to be wound up and will continue and examine events covered up in the past. She could not be clearer.
“I disagree with those who say we should not consider what happened in the past. This is a necessary part of our work. Lessons have to be learnt from institutional failures and any cover-ups which have come to light, and only in this way can we look to the future with confidence. I have to say that I regard calls for us to forget the past with a high 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.”
She also believes the terms of reference are deliverable possibly within five years by 2020. So it will not drag its feet for over a decade.
But for me the most interesting part of her statement – and why it is particularly important – is the context she lays down for the future of the inquiry She is moving away from a heavily legally dominated inquiry which would have dramatic hearings – which lawyers love – to a more rounded approach that it should have had in the first place.
This paragraph is the crucial one:
We need a clear focus on the truly big changes required across institutions in England and Wales. This ensures that our findings and recommendations are widely relevant and that no institution can avoid the reach of this Inquiry. To do this, we will align the elements of this Inquiry across four major themes:
a. Cultural – examining the attitudes, behaviours and values within institutions which prevent us from stopping child sexual abuse;
b. Structural – examining the legislative, governance and organisational frameworks in place, both within and between institutions;
c. Financial – examining the financial, funding and resource arrangements for relevant institutions and services; and
d. Professional and political – examining the leadership, professional and practice issues for those working or volunteering in relevant institutions.
To my mind this is providing a structure for future investigations and putting a much greater emphasis on changing how society views child sexual abuse and how we are going to fund a much better service to help survivors and become aware of what a big problem child sexual abuse is in this country.
This comes as Simon Bailey, Norfolk’s chief constable who is co-ordinating current police investigations through Operation Hydrant, has said that as a conservative figure there are 100,000 people viewing child sexual abuse images in England and Wales. If that is not a wake up call to the scale of the problem what is.
It also chimes in with the admission from Margaret Hodge in her book Called to Account on how naive she was in the 1980s not believing that Islington child sexual abuse was rife because her officials and the police told her it was not true. She admits her biggest failing was not to talk to the victims and survivors at the time.
Why I say the job is half done – is that we do not know whether all the individual inquiries – from Greville Janner to Westminster and the Church of England will go ahead as planned.
Given following Ben Emmerson’s resignation she has no counsel to the inquiry that is not surprising. But I would suspect that these inquiries will have to be narrowed in scope to prevent the process being overwhelmed. It will require some very judicial decision making to decide which cases will need to be emphasised.
However survivors like Andi Lavery are totally wrong headed to call for her resignation. He does not represent the views of all survivors and it is not even clear whether he has even consulted them before demanding such action.
Her appointment has taken the direction of the inquiry away from just a series of legal type trials to a proper, well rounded scrutiny of the toxic issue of child sexual abuse. And her role should be welcomed not denigrated.