The largest victims’ group involved in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has withdrawn from the investigation, claiming it is an “unpalatable circus”.
The Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, which represents 600 victims of abuse who lived in children’s homes run by Lambeth Council, held a vote amongst members to decide if it wanted to continue to contribute to the abuse inquiry.
It is claimed that they do not have confidence in the inquiry’s leadership.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Raymond Stevenson – Chair of the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association – said that the group did not feel comfortable putting their members through an inquiry that is “openly failing” and explained that they will continue with their own investigation, which could publish the names of 60 abusers that worked in homes for Lambeth Council.
The withdrawal of Shirley Oaks Survivors Association is yet another blow for a beleaguered inquiry that has been plagued by resignations and is yet to accept a submission of evidence from survivors, despite being established in July 2014.
The abuse suffered while under the duty of care of Lambeth Council was one of the main investigations that was due to be undertaken by the IICSA and was one of the first, of 13, investigations established by then Chair Dame Lowell Goddard.
Current Chair, Professor Alexis Jay, has sought to reassure others survivors that the inquiry will go on, as a statement from the former Social Worker – who successfully uncovered widespread sexual exploitation of vulnerable children in Rotherham – read:
“We are sorry to hear the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association have decided to withdraw from the investigation. Our investigation will continue and will examine the scale and nature of the abuse that may have taken place under the care of Lambeth Council with pace, confidence, and clarity.”
Lord Janner hearing delayed
Shirley Oaks Survivors Association’s withdrawal comes at a bad time for the inquiry, as it follows the resignation of yet another senior lawyer, as Professor Aileen McColgan – who was in charge of investigating abuse in Anglican and Catholic churches – followed in the recent footsteps of lead counsel Ben Emmerson and joint first junior Elizabeth Prochaska.
In a difficult week for the IICSA, it has also been revealed that the hearing into the allegations of abuse against the late Lord Greville Janner, for which abuse lawyer Peter Garsden is representing a group action, has been delayed.
After the turbulence caused by allegations against a former Chair, Professor Alexis Jay recently tried to restore confidence in the inquiry by focusing its investigation on four key thematic strands, which could have facilitated the abuse of vulnerable children.
As Peter explains, this attempt to reassure victims just last month is slowly becoming undone, as survivors are once again beginning to question whether the inquiry has been set up to fail:
“I have every sympathy with the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association and understand the reasons for their desire to withdraw from the IICSA process, as they have already faced a difficult five-year inquiry that required its members to relive their horrific experiences.”
“Despite this, it is vitally important that the inquiry continues with its goal of uncovering the truth, most of whom have waited decades to finally achieve a semblance of justice.”
“It is unfortunate that the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association feels that the inquiry will never truly achieve this goal, which is a feeling that probably stems from the recent resignations and long-standing turmoil at the top of the inquiry.”
“If the inquiry does not want other survivor groups following the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association then there are serious questions that need to be answered at the top of the inquiry, including where is Ben Emmerson’s replacement and why have so many lawyers resigned without making official statements? Is there a mistrust of lawyers, or is it a question of the inquiry’s current structure?”
“The announcement that the hearing into the alleged abuse of Lord Janner also undermines confidence, as the survivors who were awaiting that hearing have been let down and ignored by institutions repeatedly since the 1960s.”
“Ultimately, the inquiry right now is rudderless and lawyerless, a restructure is very important if it is going to regain the trust of survivors, who can only look on in apathy as they see yet another hope of justice struggle to deliver.”