The shock news as I write this blog is that Lowell Goddard, the New Zealand judge in charge of the abuse inquiry has resigned from her post in charge of the IICSA (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) some 15 months after she was appointed. She was, of course, the third chairperson after Baroness Butler Sloss who lasted a matter of a week, and Dame Fiona Woolf who resigned after criticism.
In the early days, the Inquiry was heavily criticised by survivors and the public alike due to the leader being connected with establishment figures of various types. It was also criticised for taking on a huge burden of investigation, which would mean its duration would last for many years.
Finally, when Lowell Goddard was appointed, she changed the whole structure of the Inquiry by putting it on a statutory footing, something the survivors were calling for. She also dismissed the survivor based panel and re-appointed non-survivors to lead it, with the survivors being represented and in a consultative capacity, but without the direct power of authority which the panel members hold.
In the beginning, all members of the “survivor” community including lawyers and others were encouraged. Judge Goddard seemed to have:-
- Planning Ability
- Empathy but not sympathy
- Patience but determination
There were still those who were critical. Those people seemed to be relegated to those with a vested interest namely alleged abusers or their families, which, in reality was not surprising.
The Inquiry carries a poisoned chalice namely to uncover, if possible, corruption at the heart of government. It is looking for evidence that those in positions of high power knew, or chose to ignore signs of abuse, or worse, were involved with the abuse itself at children’s homes and other establishments.
Those of a suspicious, or perhaps perceptive nature would argue that the Inquiry has been set up to fail so as to protect those in positions of power.
I am involved in the Janner Inquiry. At the publicly broadcast directions hearing last week, it was announced that the evidential investigation was being fired at government, evidence already having been obtained from peripheral authorities such as the police and the local authority. There was also a hint of tension following an unannounced application by the Police for restrictions on press broadcasting.
The investigation of Lord Janner is causing disquiet amongst friends and family who feel that a man who has never been prosecuted and is dead should not be the subject of investigation. This ignores the wishes and feelings of 30 victims half of whom we represent. They deserve some sort of justice after the Police and the Crown Prosecution Services missed 4 opportunities to prosecute the Lord during his lifetime. It also ignores the fact that the Inquiry’s interest in Janner is derived from the fact that he was a Member of Parliament for many years with intense connections with the establishment.
I cannot believe that recent criticism of Judge Goddard by Sean O’Neill of the Times and other broadsheets have brought about her resignation. The headlines, as are often the case, surround money and her salary, as well as being accused of spending too much time abroad.
I can only presume that her external commitments in Australia and New Zealand, have brought about split loyalties and the realisation that she cannot do full justice to the task which she seemed determined to give her full concentration. [Since this blog was published, rumours of tensions within the Inquiry have been speculated. Some social media commentators have opined that she has been dismissed by government for probing too far.]
The press releases give no clue as to the reason behind the resignation, which the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, appears to have immediately accepted and commented that it is the correct decision.
So what of the future – a quick replacement is required to ensure continuation with the same energy. An overly quick appointment, however, could result in more criticism if someone too close to the establishment is once again installed.
Survivors will feel betrayed once again, and let down by what they will perceive is failure by authority to properly investigate what those in positions of power are trying to cover up. They were, of course, abused by someone in a position of power or authority in childhood. Their perception, of course, is arguably more important than whatever may be the reality.
I will give my view on BBC West Midlands tomorrow morning at 7.30am. What other interest will arise, and how long the story will run in the media with the Olympics also opening in Brazil, remains to be seen.
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