Historical abuse inquiry could put future victims at risk

Departure

The independent inquiry into cases of historical sex abuse has been thrown into disarray once again, as its second chair is forced to resign amid concerns about her suitablilty to chair the inquiry.

Despite being publicly backed by the Prime Minister, Fiona Woolf has resigned amidst public condemnation from support groups and victims as to her impartiality and ability to chair the inquiry.

Lady Woolf has admitted to having attended several dinners between 2008-2012 with former home secretary, Lord Brittan. Likely to have to give evidence himself during the inquiry, he held his position at the time when ministers were said to have been given information about high-profile people alleged to be paedophiles.

In a statement, Theresa May stated that the panel would continue its work until a new chair could be appointed, however, she felt that: “she [Fiona Woolf] would have carried out her duties with integrity, impartiality and to the highest standard.”

After the resignation of the first chair, Baroness Butler-Sloss, the inquiry has been surrounded in controversy. Having been established four months ago, no meaningful work is thought to have been done - instead, it has been noted for the difficulties Mrs May has faced in finding someone victims and groups have confidence in.

All of this leads to the very real question of - what next for the ill-fated inquiry and its victims?

One option lies in looking further afield for a chair, perhaps looking out to our Commonwealth partners to find someone not embroiled in political relationships and affiliations.

Another alternative is to grant the wishes of victims’ groups who have called for a statutory inquiry. This would mean that witnesses would not simply be asked to attend to give evidence, giving a more thorough, accurate, picture as to the scale of historical child abuse.

Theresa May will also have to take into consideration the issue of the geographical spread of the inquiry. With victims and witnesses residing all over the country, she will have to find a way in which to include them in the proceedings, without the risk of alienating those who find it difficult to travel or even leave their homes.

Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood, speaking to The Guardian, has stated that he does not believe the inquiry will be able to fulfil its basic functions in its present form:

“The whole thing is a farce… we are talking about an inquiry that is supposed to be looking at the worst kind of violations, of children. I think it is a dead duck.”

One thing is for sure - with the recent investigations into child abuse scandals in Greater Manchester, a failure to ensure that this inquiry runs smoothly could easily lead to victims of abuse losing confidence in the system and set a precedent which dooms the future of others in the future.