THE BLOG

New Inquiries Into Widepread Institutional Child Abuse Are a Positive Step, But Action Must Follow

21/07/2014 15:49 BST | Updated 20/09/2014 10:59 BST

Two new inquiries into failures by those in power to uncover alleged child abuse crimes are well intentioned, but action must follow to bring perpetrators to justice and to ensure such abuse can never happen again.

After a number of recent cases exposed a failure by public bodies to protect children in places where they should feel safe, Home Secretary, Theresa May, responded with two inquiries.

The first inquiry will be led by an independent panel of experts on law and child protection, who will be tasked with exploring past failings by institutions in how victims of child sexual abuse have been treated to ensure these mistakes are not repeated. The second Home Office review will be headed up by NSPCC chief executive, Peter Wanless, and will focus on the alleged missing files documenting allegations of child sexual abuse by MPs in the 1980s.

These inquiries aim to tell us more about how public bodies should report claims of abuse by identifying the flaws of past investigations, but we must not forget the people who have been abused. We run the risk of getting caught up in reviewing systematic flaws and not actually supporting victims and crucially tackling individual cases by opening up new investigations against perpetrators.

My clients describe how they have been robbed of their childhood by paedophiles and left psychologically scarred for the rest of their lives. Their right to justice is therefore of paramount importance.

Theresa May is right to say that the wider panel inquiry should not overshadow existing police investigations. It is imperative that the panel is now in a place to pass any further allegations or evidence found to the authorities so that action can follow. We cannot continue to ignore the voices of past and present abuse victims and it would be unforgiveable for those heading up the inquiry to make this mistake.

So why has this come about now? Leon Brittan, the then home secretary was recently urged by a Labour MP to come forward and explain what happened to a missing 'dossier', alleging that a child sexual abuse ring was operating in Westminster in the 1980s.

A 2013 review found that 114 documents were unaccounted for, despite the fact that the minister acted appropriately and passed on the documents to Home Office officials. After weeks of questioning around how past claims of child sexual abuse were handled, the Home Secretary had no choice but to tackle the problem head on by launching these inquiries.

Now, evidence shows that as many as 20 prominent figures, including MPs and ministers have allegedly abused children and the Government has been forced to take notice.

Cases of abuse publicised as a result of the on-going Savile inquiry and other allegations linked to various churches, schools and care homes have affected the nation's psyche. It is only by pulling these strands together that society will be able to learn lessons from what has happened.

As the various investigations rumble on, we must not forget the reason this is happening - bringing justice for victims of abuse and holding perpetrators to account for their terrible crimes.

To deal with such widespread problems, the independent inquiry will require joined-up thinking between the panel, the public bodies in question, authorities and the government in order to take further action and ensure such crimes cannot take place again.

The start of these inquiries will be greeted with cautious optimism by victims of child abuse, who will be eager to see them progress and bring perpetrators to account.

Jonathan Wheeler is a partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp and acts for survivors of child sexual abuse.