Theresa May to address MPs over ‘chaotic’ child abuse inquiry

Theresa May

Theresa May, the home secretary, will promise to consult colleagues and victims groups about how to restore trust in the government’s troubled child abuse inquiry, but a senior Labour backbencher warned against giving MPs a veto over the new choice for chairman.

May will give a statement to the Commons after Fiona Woolf became the second senior legal figure to resign as chair owing to concerns about her connections to the Westminster establishment.

The home secretary will also answer questions from MPs on the inquiry, which has been branded chaotic by Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the home affairs committee.

Victims’ groups, who are calling for a tougher judge-led inquiry with more powers to compel witnesses to give evidence and wider terms of reference, have been frustrated about being shut out of the process.

May said on Friday that she would seek the views of survivors of child abuse and a pre-appointment hearing with the Commons home affairs committee before confirming a new candidate.

However, Tom Watson, the Labour MP who led calls for an inquiry into the scandals, has warned against letting MPs effectively have a veto over the new chairman as there are so many serious allegations against parliamentarians.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m slightly anxious that the final say on who chairs this is a load of MPs given that some of the allegations are that MPs were involved in wrongdoing.”

Asked about allegations of a Westminster coverup, Watson added: “I tend to think that incompetence is usually the reason these things go wrong rather than conspiracy. I am in no doubt though that there are allegations made against MPs from all the main parties that are very serious. And there will be some people with an interest in this inquiry being derailed. And I sometimes look at Theresa May and think she must wonder whether her own department are trying to undermine her inquiry.”

May is also under pressure to publish a separate review handed to her department on 15 October by the NSPCC chief, Peter Wanless, who was tasked with looking into the way the Home Office dealt with an investigation into child abuse allegations between 1979 and 1999.

But the department is refusing to make that review public at this stage, with a spokesman saying there is no specific date yet for its release as May is still considering the document.

Wanless said he wanted the report to published as soon as possible, when asked by the Guardian on Sunday night, but added: “It was requested by the home secretary so it is for her to decide on when to publish and explain timing.”

On Sunday, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, called for the Wanless review to be published, saying there were “widespread issues around child abuse that takes place in the home but also the way institutions respond to that … whether they respond in the right way to it”.

That the report has been completed emerged in a parliamentary answer given by John Mann, a Labour backbencher who has campaigned on the issue.

Norman Baker, a Home Office minister, told MPs: “The review has had access to all material identified which would relate to child abuse and which the department still holds. The home secretary has now received the report of the review and is considering its findings ahead of the full report being published.”

Mann told the Guardian there was “no reason why it should not be published” and that he would be pressing May about it in the Commons on Monday. However, he warned that the report probably raised more questions than it answered as the team did not have access to documents protected by the Official Secrets Act.

Woolf resigned as chair of the inquiry on Friday because of her friendship with a neighbour, Lord Brittan. The former Tory home secretary is under scrutiny because a dossier containing accusations about Westminster paedophile activity went missing from his department during the 1980s. He denies any failure to act and that there is a letter suggesting it should have been passed on to police.

Powered by article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for The Guardian on Monday 3rd November 2014 11.41 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010