Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: It’s A Mess Theresa. Tear It Up And Start Again

Barristerblogger hates people who say “I told you so,” but I told you so. Theresa May’s Child Sex Abuse Inquiry has been heading for disaster since it was established. It still is. After two appointments of unsuitable Chairwomen and two embarrassing resignations, if the Home Secretary cannot make it third time lucky then it will be her own resignation that will be demanded.

Apart from her blunders over these appointments, her other mistake was to announce an inquiry without clearly setting out what it was going to inquire into. The Terms of Reference ought to have come before, rather than after the appointment of the panel. The result has been utter confusion about how the inquiry will operate.

Even now she is going about matters the wrong way round. Before she appoints the next Chair she must be clear about what sort of inquiry this is going to be. Is it going to hear evidence and make findings of fact? Or is it simply going to review documentation from previous inquiries? Most people assume that it is the former. Mrs May seems to believe it is the latter. She needs to make it clear.

So there are two particularly pressing problems that she needs to deal with: the composition of the panel, and its Terms of Reference.

Composition of the panel

It seems very unlikely that Woolf was the first or even second choice to replace Butler-Sloss. Many of the most obvious candidates will have been passed over for a good reason. No Home Secretary in her right mind, for example, would have preferred Woolf to the experienced and greatly respected criminal specialist Lady Justice Hallett who chaired the 7/7 bombings inquest so sensitively. One must assume that she was not available or that she declined the opportunity.

Anyone who declined the appointment originally will not have changed their minds after events of recent days. Quite apart from the Herculean scale of the task, it would be quite an unusual person who is willing – as a potential Chairman or woman would have to be – to open up their private life for investigation both by the Daily Mail and by Keith Vaz, Parliament’s most oleaginous popinjay.

So a replacement for Woolf is going to be even harder to find. The pool of those who are both prepared to do the job, and up to it, is extremely small. So far the only person prepared to announce his willingness to take it on is the left wing barrister Michael Mansfield QC, who would be an even more astonishing and disastrous choice than Woolf.

But the Chairman is not the only problem. There is at least one other member of the panel, Graham Wilmer MBE who is, through no fault of his own, a wholly inappropriate member of what is meant to be an impartial panel.

Mr Wilmer was a victim of sexual abuse at his church school and has been a forceful campaigner on behalf of victims of sexual abuse. He has written a number of books on the subject, including one published in October called The Devil’s Advocate – Child abuse and the Men in Black. In a note to the book Mr Wilmer says this:

I have written this book to help expose the catastrophic shortcomings of the United Kingdom’s government, the Churches, religious institutions and our criminal justice system, as they attempt to deal with the scale and consequences of sexual abuse in our country. The book is far from the full picture, but it should serve to remind those who hold power in our nation that, as a society, we are not dealing well with the enormity of the problem, which remains hidden in plain sight, despite the courage of the many victims who come forward, even though that usually means they face hostility, resentment and denial, rather than the compassion, understanding and acknowledgement they need and deserve. The cost of sexual abuse in our society, in whatever way one measures it, is on a scale that makes it both a national disgrace and a national health epidemic, neither being something that should be tolerated by any government, but tolerated it is.”

It is a perfectly defensible point of view, but it demonstrates that Mr Wilmer has a settled opinion on the very question that the inquiry is meant to be deciding. The opening words of the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry say that the purpose of the inquiry is:

To consider the extent to which State and non-State institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation ….”

We already know the extent to which Mr Wilmer thinks the institutions have failed because he has told us: “catastrophically.”

Mr Wilmer’s letter setting out possible conflicts of interest rather skated around the point, and certainly gives little hint of the excoriating polemic that he has written:

At the age of 16 I was abused by a teacher at the Salesian College Chertsey. I disclosed the abuse to my Head Teacher but the school suppressed the information. My abuser was subsequently prosecuted but the prosecution collapsed.

In 2003, together with a fellow survivor, I formed the Lantern Project which is a support service for victims of sexual abuse and a registered charity …

I have written several books on the subject of Child Abuse, its impact and the development of better therapeutic services to assist the recovery of survivors ….

Perhaps he thought it unnecessary to go into more detail (although he lists the books he has written), or perhaps the Home Office advisers who seem to have played a part in drafting his letter (whole paragraphs of which are worded identically to Mrs Woolf’s equivalent) chose to play down the extent to which he has been an active campaigner.

Unfortunately there is more. Mr Wilmer’s letter very properly lists a number of anti-child abuse and children’s organisations with which he has been involved. Then he discloses that he is

involved in supporting survivors who are victims of institutional child abuse in claims in connection with claims for Civil damages and Criminal Injuries Compensation ….”

There is no further explanation and this disclosure raises more questions than it answers. Does he have a financial interest in “supporting” survivors who are making claims for compensation? He doesn’t say. What, in any case, does “supporting survivors” in connection with their claims for compensation mean? Does it mean encouraging them? Helping them prepare statements? Counselling them? Who knows.

One issue that the Child Abuse Inquiry ought to be addressing is to what extent claims of abuse may have been influenced by a desire for compensation. Hardly anyone believes that every single claim for compensation is genuine but the extent of compensation fraud is unknown. Is it a serious problem, or is it a canard thrown up by those who would deny the seriousness of sexual abuse?

The way the system can work in a grossly unfair way was recently explained by Ben Gunn who was serving a sentence for a murder committed when he was a teenager. He was approached by police officers seeking to build a sexual case against one of his former care workers. He describes how the lure of compensation, and the belief that the man was quite probably guilty anyway, led him to make a false accusation, which he eventually retracted; other prisoners, according to Gunn, spoke quite openly and unashamedly about making false allegations as part of a “compensation scam.” Criminal cases – for example those of care workers Basil Williams-Rigby and Michael Lawson – have collapsed after strong suspicions were raised that witnesses may have lied to obtain compensation. Recent reports by investigative journalist David Rose have revealed that police are investigating Jimmy Savile’s great-niece with regard to a possible compensation fraud and it would be hardly surprising if amongst the 170 claimants against Savile’s estate represented by solicitors Slater and Gordon, there was not at least a small number who were dishonest.

The extent of such fraud bears directly on “the extent” of the problem of child abuse that the inquiry is meant to investigate.

So even if Mr Wilmer’s campaigning activity was not enough to disqualify him from sitting on an impartial panel, his provision of “support to survivors” claiming compensation ought to do so. How can such a person possibly say (as he does in his letter) “I do not consider that I have a ‘close association with an interested party.’” Who are the interested parties if not the victims? And what association could be closer and more relevant than helping them to claim compensation?

Terms of Reference

The terms are at the moment absurdly wide-ranging.

The inquiry is meant to inquire into the extent of sexual abuse in “State and non-State institutions” from “1970 to the present day.” In case anyone had any doubt what this involves, the institutions include (but are not limited to):

  • Government departments, Parliament and Ministers;
  • Police, prosecuting authorities, schools including private and state-funded boarding and day schools, Local Authorities including care homes and children’s services, health services, prisons/secure estates;
  • Churches and other religious denominations and organisations;
  • Political Parties;
  • The Armed Services.”

If the inquiry is to do more than merely skate over the problems that may have existed in all these institutions its members might as well give up any thought of doing anything else for the rest of their lives. The idea that it could – as Mrs Woolf, presumably on the instructions of Mrs May, promised – produce an “interim report by March 2015” is laughable, unless what is envisaged is a platitudinous rehash of the received wisdom on all these institutions. Unfortunately that is almost certainly exactly what is planned although she called it a “scoping exercise,” which, conveniently, could mean almost anything.

So we shall be reminded in bland terms that the institutions did not do everything they could have done, that lessons must be learned and that internal processes must be improved. There will be much talk of the need for “root and branch” change in this and of “institutional failings” in that. It will be asserted that such things must “never be allowed to happen again” and all will agree that there must be a complete “culture change.” Victims, it will be asserted, should never be treated as they used to be, and perpetrators must in future face “the full rigour of the law.” Those who abuse children, we shall rightly be told, must be given no sheltering place. Empty phrases will be piled upon clichés and will then be topped and tailed with truisms. There will be recommendations for new criminal offences, including, almost certainly, some sort of compulsory reporting of suspected sexual abuse. Inquiries love to recommend changes in the law, not least because if they don’t do so then it looks like they have been wasting their time.

What the Inquiry is not equipped to do is actually to do any inquiring. A paragraph in the recently published Terms of Reference seems to make that clear. The Panel’s remit is to:

consider all the information which is available from the various published and unpublished reviews, court cases, investigations etc. (hereinafter “the reports”) which have so far concluded.”

In other words, it won’t really be an inquiry at all, because it won’t be hearing much evidence or uncovering new facts so much as looking at other concluded reviews, court cases and investigations. There may be something to be said for this, but it is certainly not what most of those with an interest in the Inquiry had envisaged. There has been much talk of “survivors” giving evidence, and indeed of people like Lord Brittan being cross-examined by Ben Emmerson QC. Well, under those Terms of Reference the latter isn’t going to happen, although in her statement this afternoon Mrs May said that some survivors of abuse will, after all be giving evidence.

Even if the Terms of Reference were not so clear, the very scale of the Inquiry would make hearing much evidence virtually impossible. Where would it begin, and where would it end? Unlike an inquest or a Public Inquiry into a major disaster which can reasonably hope to hear all, or most, of the relevant evidence – even if it often takes many months – an inquiry charged with investigating practically everything about an almost infinite number of institutions over a 44 year time period cannot. If it hears from some of those who say they have been abused then, unless it is to be a complete kangaroo tribunal it should hear from his or her alleged abuser. Almost all of what it might wish to investigate is highly contentious and controversial, and a series of blundering attempts to investigate sexual incidents from the distant past without either the powers or the safeguards of a proper court is virtually guaranteed to create injustice.

Where does that leave, for example, Geoffery Dickens and his mysterious “dossier” that was supposedly handed to Leon Brittan in the 1980s? The answer must be that it will leave it as mysterious as it ever was, its contents no doubt as open to speculation and unproveable conspiracy theories as they are today.

  • A satanist paedophile ring at the heart of government? David Icke – who also believes in a theory that monster lizards are controlling everything including, I imagine this inquiry – has long claimed as much.
  • A shadowy Jewish conspiracy with strings pulled by the Oppenheimer family? There are plenty of people willing to believe that.
  • If bilious anti-semitism is not your thing, then how about an old fashioned conspiracy of paedophile freemasons? If that’s to your taste you’ll find plenty of other people happy to – as they usually put it – “join the dots.” After all wasn’t Cyril Smith a Mason?
  • Maybe you’d like to believe that the Kings Cross fire was actually an act of arson perpetrated by paedophiles secretly burning children in a subterranean canteen? Well you’ll be pleased to learn that plenty of other (and funnily enough usually anti-semitic) people think exactly the same.

Nasty and absurd theories of this sort abound and presumably lots of people believe in them, although they are very rarely spelt out in polite society because open anti-semitism is hardly more respectable than a belief in a ruling class of lizards. Hints are dropped, cover-ups alleged, investigations are demanded but they are never enough.

If the investigations uncover genuine crimes then that justifies calls for further investigation; the crimes that have been revealed are always “the tip of the iceberg.” If the investigations reveal no crimes that simply shows that the paedophile ring is in control, which again means that further investigations are called for.

None of this means that boys and girls were not abused. It does mean that we should be extremely sceptical that this “over-arching inquiry” will resolve anything. It won’t.

So should it, as many suggest, become a formal judicial inquiry with powers to summon witnesses and punish liars?

The trouble with such a superficially attractive suggestion comes down again to the Terms of Reference. A judge could plausibly inquire into, say, sexual abuse in a single school over 40 years. Witnesses could be called, suspects could be summoned, documents could be examined. No doubt victims would demand representation, as would suspects, the school itself, perhaps the Local Authority or individual social workers (if they had been involved at all). The police, for obvious reasons, would want to be represented. A High Court judge could make findings of fact and recommendations. It might work, though to do it properly it would take many months and perhaps years.

The Waterhouse inquiry into North Wales Care Homes took 3 years, was criticised by almost everybody either for showing unfairness towards staff or indulgence towards the police and is now itself being inquired into by Lady Justice Macur.

The idea that any judge could conduct a meaningful and fair inquiry into the extent of sexual abuse in hundreds of different institutions in England and Wales over a period of 44 years, let alone that it could be extended to the Channel Isles and Northern Ireland (as has been seriously suggested) takes wishful thinking to a new level of absurdity.

If institutions are to be investigated, then the terms of reference must be limited in scope. A single “over-arching inquiry” is bound to disappoint, while a number of manageable inquiries into particular institutions might just be worthwhile.

But it should be a proper and rigorous investigation, and not regarded as merely a forum for victims to “have a voice.” It must set about its task without preconceptions and it must be prepared to make findings that are unpopular with government, unpopular with institutions and unpopular with victims.  Although it will not have the power to impose criminal sanctions it will have enormous power to destroy reputations.

Those who have been abused must be legally represented, and their evidence must be publicly tested.

Those who are said to have perpetrated abuse must also be properly represented and allowed to defend themselves.

Any inquiry panel must be made up of those who are truly independent. It must be chaired by a senior judge who commands near universal respect.

It will not answer all questions, but it might answer some.

So if Mrs May is to have any hope of finding someone to Chair the Inquiry she needs to tear up her terms of reference, sack the entire panel and start all over again.

If she persists with the flawed inquiry that she has established then, even if she finds someone foolhardy enough to chair it, it will achieve nothing, do justice to nobody and injustice to many.

Author: Matthew

I have been a barrister for over 25 years, specialising in crime. You may also have come across some of my articles I have written on legal issues for The Times, Standpoint, Daily Telegraph or Criminal Law & Justice Weekly

26 thoughts on “Child Sex Abuse Inquiry: It’s A Mess Theresa. Tear It Up And Start Again”

  1. You are correct that there are inherent problems in conducting an enquiry on this scale, but I still resent the implication that Mr Wilmer or people like him are financially motivated. If child-abuse whistle-blowers wanted to make money they could make more in a factory sewing T-shirts for 62p per hour. Investigating this sort of corruption take people months or years of their time, unpaid, and I do not know of any case where those who advised victims were paid for doing so. The tiny handful of volunteers who put in their time to try to expose corruption are mostly, as far as I know, unpaid. There are a few journalists such as Eileen Fairweather and Nick Davies who have occasionally got paid for their articles but they would have made more money by selling the Big Issue for a week. To allege mercenary motives is most inappropriate.
    Robert Green has been locked up in Scotland for asking too many questions about why a 9-year-old girl in care got gonhorrea. She had no boyfriend and alleged that it was adults visiting the institution to use the children.
    I am not a sensational conspiracy theorist and I do not believe that the world is run by giant lizards, but I invite you to read the two following articles which give some idea of how endemic paedophilia is in our ruling class and corridors of power:-
    This is about the man who founded the Conservative party’s “gay” group.
    This is about Peter Ashman, who was the director of the European Human Rights Foundation.

    1. I am not suggesting that Mr Wilmer is financially motivated. I am simply suggsting that both his public pronouncements and his admitted association with those claiming compensation make him an unsuitable person to sit on a panel which should be seen to be entirely impartial.

      1. Would it be a solution to have an equal number of people biased on each side?
        Finding the unbiased is so very difficult.

        1. Wilmer may or may not be financially motivated. It is possible to carve yourself a nice niche without any compensation. What he certainly isn’t is neutral, especially given that his claim of abuse was rejected.

          1. In fairness to Wilmer there is no reason to doubt that he was abused. Indeed his abuser seems to have admitted as much subsequently. Nor do I doubt his integrity in any way.

  2. IF the compensation carrot suddenly disappeared from the CSA scene, there would be little or no need for an inquiry. Yes, I do believe that kids in care homes, schools etc are abused but not on the industrial scale claimed. Just look at the Savile debacle, just a short forensic investigation of some of the claims has already shown that claimants do lie ! Concentrate on the here and now, take every step possible to prevent or tackle abuse as it happens and punish the offenders. Find a system to ensure that and I’m sure we will all be happy .. ish !

    1. Well, obviously. Even those that were abused are inclined to, shall we say, over egg the pudding. Regrettably, because of their unstable background mostly, residents of care homes and residential schools have a large proportion of criminals ; one wonders what proportion of the normal population would lie for money with zero risk, let alone the criminal one.Add into this the psychologically damaged.

      Compensation distorts everything. Everyone (almost) claims “it’s not about compo” but they make claims. The worst are those in the legal profession who actively encourage people to lie.

      What the ‘victims’ and their solicitor-grot want is a Waterhouse style enquiry where nobody is allowed to question the tales, leading more or less immediately to compensation.

    2. What exactly is this “short forensic investigation” that you claim can be carried out twenty or thirty years later and prove that people are lying? I will believe that when I see it.
      When I consider the ordeals that some of the witnesses go through, to refer to them “lying for money with zero risk” is utterly offensive..One victim of Sir Cyril Smith committed suicide when the police accused him of wasting their time. There was another boy, called Peter H., one of the Elm Guesthouse victims, who committed suicide some years after he had actually been awarded compensation.. A couple of thousand quid did not cure his chronic depression and low self-esteem.
      Bringing one of these cases is arduous, lengthy, time consuming and gruelling. Victims are often humiliated by being accused of lying, exaggerating or having “asked for it”. Their names are reported in the papers. People who wanted money could earn more by spending that time working in Macdonalds.
      They do it because they are angry and desperate for justice. It is certainly not true to say as paulscottrobson does that in the Waterhouse enquiry “nobody is allowed to question the tales, leading more or less immediately to compensation.” Far from it.
      The accused staff had their own solicitors as in any other case.
      Does Paulscottrobson also think that the world-wide scandals about CSA in the Catholic church are fuelled by a desire for financial compensation?

      1. I have no idea about whether Smith was an abuser or not but I do know that the claims that were made about Savile in the ITV expose were lies. How do I know this ? Because I and several others have examined many of the claims. Our blogs eventually found a voice in the msm when David Rose an investigative journalist who attended the 2002 Home Affairs Select Committee on institutional CA, began his investigations.
        Here is just one of the MANY lies we have been able to expose : The cancer patient who said Jimmy ‘saved her life’ and who adored him yet now claims to have been assaulted on numerous occasions.
        Here’s another : the witness presented on ITV’s exposure who was later exposed as a liar for claiming that Surrey Police sent her and fellow Duncroft schoolgirls a letter about the 2007-2009 investigation.
        I could go on and on, but look for yourself. That’s what I mean by ‘short forensic investigation’. It took very little effort to expose the original claimants as liars.
        I have every sympathy with genuine victims but I cannot stand by and watch innocent men being tried and found guilty of crimes that the Police, in the case of Savile, have not bothered to investigate.
        Justice must be seen to be done and labeling a dead man a criminal of epic proportions is not Justice ! It is indeed, a perversion of Justice

        1. .@ rabbitway
          Neither of these are “forensic investigations” and neither instance provides any proof that the person in question was lying. No, I am not going to “look for myself”. I challenged you to bring support for what you said and since you have not done so, I remain unconvinced.

          1. So you accept that a woman who adored Savile, made countless trips with him etc etc, is truthful when the moment the man dies, she : pesters his charity for money and 2 : accuses him of abuse. Not sure what you mean by ‘forensic’ but I’ve a feeling nothing would make you question the motives of the Savile accusers. That’s the end of this exchange for me. If you can’t be bothered to investigate the evidence already out there, you are not worth talking to !

          2. You say “Not sure what you mean by ‘forensic’ and that indeed is the problem. you don’t know what forensic means. So please stop getting ratty with me and just look it up in a dictionary.

  3. The current Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse while finding that both the Anglican & Catholic churches have woefully responded in the past to abuse also found a “whistleblower” whose persistent claims along with a journalist drove that inquiry had also grossly exaggerated his claims that included falsely claiming there was a cabal of Catholic detectives suppressing evidence.
    Not a thought has been given to any of those policeman who at least remain anonymous in the media but anecdotally one suffered a break down and another said his children had been abused at school about their “pedo loving ” dad.
    It has yet to give it’s findings but really what it is uncovering is not really news to anyone : it’s been well established that the Catholic Church responses in the past were totally inadequate yet has not delved into may root causes : such as British social services packing off 100s of kids to the colonies, some on false claims their parents were dead to Anglican & Catholic homes where they were used as cheap labour and many shockingly abused.

    The author is correct- even the terms of this mooted CSA Inquiry are all over the place and it risks dragging on for years, coming to conclusions that society in the past has acted badly-no news there- and will costs hundreds of millions of pounds, money that would far better spent on real live children today.

  4. All justice is expensive, but I do not know where you get your figure from of hundreds of millions of pounds – it sounds rather inflated.
    I am still waiting to hear what these “forensic tests “are, referred to above. Making a false claim is not “without risk”. Wasting police time is a criminal offence and you can be prosecuted for it.
    There are many people who would be quite happy to sit on such a tribunal for the minimum wage. Me, for instance – I have never been molested, nor do I personally know any accused people so I am unbiased. But we would never be considered for the job. We don’t know the right people, the ministers and politicians or whoever it is makes the choice.

  5. So David Rose’s word is the Word of God, and if he says there is no big problem with institutional child abuse that it is so? Who made David Rose the Expert Witness of institutional child abuse, MI5? Also, why is the Daily Mail newspaper using MI5 agents as reporters and also using anonymous journalists, aren’t we supposed to be allowed to verify the appropriate credentials of journalists under their own Code of Conduct?

    I was abused in “care” at Chadswell Assessment centre in Rocester near Uttoxeter 40 years ago, I was put into care on a Place of safety court order, after Social Services involvement because I was playing truant and tried to run away from the person who was abusing me, and barricading myself in my bedroom and screaming, trying to let all the poison out. If I saw a child acting like I did aged 13 my heart would be very tender towards that child, I would know straight away the pain in that childs heart, and the last thing I would do is to treat that child with brutality and cruelty, I would, for example never dream of treating such a child to the thuggery that I encountered at the hell hole pimping den that I was sent to which was called Chadswell Assessment centre. You do NOT punch a young girl in the head for weeping in the night on her first day in such a dismal strange place, neither do you strip such a young girl of all of her own clothes and possessions and force her to wear a dingy uniform from an old cardboard box, you do not leave that young girl to sit frightened, locked up in a dismal den that is more like Fagins Den than a proper childrens home.

    Thats the start of what happened to me, and they all know what was happening in Staffordshire, yet not one of us Pindown child abuse victims has been called to give evidence, unlike Graham Wilmer I was 11 years old when the abuse started, as far as I am concerned I am still being abused 40 years later as I am still being pushed under the rug, I am still waiting for an actual proper apology.

    As to compensation hunters, well, I have not seen a single penny of compensation and probably never will, I do believe there were some people who were paid compensation in Staffordshire but I wasn’t one of them, even more worrying I understand that a great deal of money was given to help Pindown victims in Staffordshire, well I haven’t even benefitted from that either, but I did have over £200,000 spent on me in the secret family courts over a 7 year period, they used Richard Gardners Threat Therapy on me, I dont believe that is something MI5 journalist David Rose is very keen to talk about though.

    1. One of the many problems with this inquiry is that it is only meant to address sexual abuse. Not sure that what you experienced will qualify for consideration.

      1. I think it is clear that when the lady uses the phrase “pimping den” she is alluding to some sort of sexual molestation.
        We have deep problems here, one of them being that a certain sort of defective person seems to volunteer to work at these institutions. Maybe they themselves were brought up in one and there are many testimonies that such institutions can harbour a culture of abuse. The children who go into them are (like workhouse inmates) despised and regarded as being of no value to society.

  6. Who would want the job indeed. Why don’t we help Theresa out and write the report for her – the usual Mk1 British Enquiry model report. There will be 532 recommendations, all trivial, there will be ‘no evidence of systematic wrongdoing by government departments’, there ‘may have been some errors of judgement’ by officials long since retired or dead. Lessons have been learned and procedures improved, so that’s all right.

    As surely as night follows day there will be another scandal along in a year or so with at its root a litany of cover-up, avoidance of difficult issues and failure to face the cost of dealing with social or political problems. Idealists might trot out a ‘whistleblower’s charter’ but such will be studiously ignored. Never mind, it all makes work for the committee person to do.

  7. Ah! But was it an error? True, it might be difficult, even impossible, to find an Inquiry Chair who has had not contact with those tainted by accusation or suspicion, but why not appoint an outsider from another country? Something similar was done in regard to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

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