With the Abuse Inquiry in Disarray, Who Polices the Establishment?

08/08/2016 12:48 | Updated 08 August 2016

A day in the life of a child can be very long, intense and memorable. Hopefully most readers can remember some wonder-filled days from their childhood. Special days out with family or adventures with friends, these hours become indelibly imprinted on our minds. They become part of us.

Unfortunately, it is the same with bad experiences. Experiences of child abuse, for example, can remain with the individual for life, casting a shadow over the world. These experiences can also have a detrimental impact on relationships - with relatives, oneself and with society itself - including social institutions that are meant to be trusted.

Therefore, when survivors of abuse have courageously disclosed their experiences (often to then be dismissed), campaigned relentlessly and repeatedly returned to horrific events in a quest for justice, being let down by a public inquiry is a betrayal. But this is exactly what has happened, again and again and again.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), was finally established as a statutory inquiry in early 2015, after decades of allegations about children abused within institutions. After the death of BBC presenter and prolific paedophile Jimmy Savile, in 2011, there was a flood of reports of his crimes and those of other abusers in positions of influence. As well as allegations about individuals, a broad range of institutions were accused of failing to protect children and covering up abuse. Politicians were among those accused of abusing children and aiding cover-ups.

When it emerged that more than 100 files pertaining to abuse by 'VIPs' had gone missing from the Home Office, then prime minister David Cameron made the outrageous suggestion that those alleging abuse and a cover-up are 'conspiracy theorists', Theresa May, home secretary at the time, was less dismissive, stating: "There might have been a cover-up. I cannot stand here and say the Home Office was not involved in a cover-up in the 1980s, and that is why I am determined to get to the truth."

This was followed by what seemed like an interminable time, in which politicians and the media languidly discussed what sort of inquiry would be required to look into the large scale abuse of children over decades. In the meantime, those who had been abused, whether decades or months ago, risked being triggered by abuse being all over the news, while little progress was being made with an inquiry.

Two attempts, in 2014, to get the inquiry off the ground failed in troubling circumstances. Two chairs in a row quit as a result of links to people alleged to be involved in cover-ups and abuse. The first chair, retired judge Baroness Butler-Sloss, was appointed by Theresa May, but after a few days stepped down. Her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, a former attorney general, had attempted to prevent diplomat and intelligence operative Peter Hayman from being prosecuted for exchanging images of child abuse.

A fresh chair, corporate lawyer Fiona Woolf, was subsequently appointed, but she quit within weeks. Woolf's reason for quitting was eerily similar to Butler-Sloss', which raises questions about May's vetting procedures. Woolf had been a social acquaintance of Leon Brittan, who was home secretary when a dossier about 'VIP' child abusers went missing and also had been linked to child abuse and an alleged rape.

One of the most troubling things about political discourse after Woolf quit was the suggestion that it would be hard to find a qualified person to lead the inquiry who doesn't have links to those under scrutiny. Even if it were true that any notable lawyer is embedded in the establishment, it surely cannot be impossible to find someone who not linked to those accused of abuse or cover-ups. But rather than identify such a person in the UK, Theresa May, in February 2015, appointed New Zealand judge Dame Lowell Goddard, who suddenly stepped down last week.

Having waited decades, in many cases, to be listened to, many survivors are outraged and also worried that the inquiry could fail. Prominent campaigner Ian McFadyen, who was abused at Caldicott Preparatory School, where a paedophile ring operated, told Channel 4 News that May must take some responsibility for the inquiry having no chair.

He said: "I and many other survivors have invested ourselves and our lives in trying to ensure that an inquiry would be set up and would be fit for survivors' purposes. We have fought hammer and tooth over this, and so I'm actually really beyond disappointed. I'm so angry with what's happened here. I am angry that, if Justice Goddard was fit for purpose for this role, she would still be in place. So Theresa May has to bear some consequences for this."

In relation to who should be appointed chair of the inquiry, Mr McFadyen went on to say: "We need somebody who survivors feel they can trust and has demonstrated that they will go the distance with regard to inquiries, and I think Michael Mansfield would be my choice."

Having cast her net as far as the other side of the world to get Goddard, apparently to avoid someone close to the establishment, it will be interesting to see if May disregards Michael Mansfield, who has said he would perform the role. The QC is far from being an establishment lapdog - he has routinely taken on the establishment on behalf of the underdog and overturned miscarriages of justice, such as the Birmingham Six case. As a result, it is likely that Mansfield would be a more popular choice among abuse survivors than among the creaking political establishment.