In Depth

Child sex abuse inquiry: First public hearings finally begin

Professor Alexis Jay will hear evidence on child migrants sent to Australia and abused last century

Child abuse inquiry in turmoil after lawyer suspended

29 September

The national inquiry into child abuse has descended into disarray after its most senior lawyer was suspended from duty.

Professor Alexis Jay, the inquiry's new head, said she had become "very concerned about aspects of Ben Emmerson's leadership of the counsel team" and had taken the action so these concerns could be investigated.

Last night's unexpected move "pushed the most ambitious public inquiry in British history into its biggest crisis", according to The Times.

Since it was set up in 2014, the investigation has suffered a series of setbacks. Jay, who was appointed last month, is the fourth person appointed to lead the inquiry. Reports yesterday suggested Emmerson's desire for a restructuring of the inquiry was at odds with her commitment to its original terms of reference.

"The breakdown in relations between the two most important figures at the inquiry came as a shock to insiders," The Times reports.

Lord Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions and a colleague of Emmerson at Matrix Chambers in London, voiced his support for the lawyer and called his departure "a categorical disaster". 

He said the inquiry had confused a desire to bring closure to generations of victims with the need for a focused investigation into changes that might better protect children in future.

"The end result is an apparent attempt at mass therapy on a grotesque scale," he added.

As the inquiry's counsel, Emmerson was paid £1,700 a day and worked 240 days in the 2015-16 financial year, adding up to £408,000, reports The Times. The investigation has so far spent more than £20m but not yet heard any evidence.

Emmerson told the BBC he was "unable" to comment at this time.

Dame Lowell Goddard resigns from child sex abuse inquiry

5 August

Dame Lowell Goddard has resigned her position as head of a major inquiry into child sexual abuse. She is the third person to quit the role.

Her departure came on the day The Times reported she "spent three months on holiday or abroad during her first year in the job".

Goddard, "whose pay and benefits package amounts to £500,000 a year, spent 44 working days in New Zealand, her home country, and Australia", says the paper, adding that she also took her 30-day annual leave allowance.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the inquiry would not be derailed by the resignation.

"I want to assure everyone with an interest in the inquiry, particularly victims and survivors, that the work of the inquiry will continue without delay," she said.

Goddard had been hand-picked for the role by Theresa May, then home secretary, after two previous chairs – Lady Butler-Sloss and Dame Fiona Woolf – were "criticised publicly for their links to the establishment", The Guardian says.

In a statement last night, Goddard said the inquiry had a "legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off", but she was "confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard".

Goddard child sex abuse inquiry: What to expect as hearings begin

27 July

Preliminary hearings have begun in the long-awaited inquiry into historic child sexual abuse.

The independent investigation, chaired by New Zealand high court judge Dame Lowell Goddard, is the largest ever undertaken in Britain, with speculation that it could last for up to a decade.

What will the inquiry look at?

"The inquiry is unprecedented in both size and scope," says Goddard. With a first-year budget of £17.9m and 155 staff members, it will focus on whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales.

The police, health service, the Crown Prosecution Service and religious bodies will all be put under the spotlight during the hearings. At the end of the investigation, Goddard and her colleagues promise to demand accountability, support victims and make recommendations for the future.

"There is no doubt that the inquiry's task is immense," Goddard recently wrote in The Guardian. "But the scale and magnitude of the problem of child sexual abuse means there is no easy fix. This is the opportunity to get to the heart of one of the biggest challenges for our generation."

However, she has already been accused of sidelining survivors in the investigation. Their testimonies will have no direct legal consequences and will only be used as "ballast" to the final report, says Phil Frampton, chair of the Care Leavers' Association. "[It's] a form of window dressing that may leave many survivors not only bound to secrecy about their testimony but also deeply distressed."

What's on the agenda this week?

Four days of preliminary hearings are taking place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. These will focus on several institutions and people, including the late Lord Janner, who has been accused of sexual abuse, as well as the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. The sessions will also look at the protection of children outside the UK. The hearings are open to the press and public. A full timetable can be found here.


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