Inquiry into sex abuse injury!
Yet more farce as lawyers probe lawyers on claims of bullying and sex assaults... no wonder it’s costing £100million
THE chairman of the beleaguered child abuse inquiry was forced to call in an independent legal expert last night to examine its ‘ cover- up’ of sexual assault and bullying claims against its top lawyer.
Professor Alexis Jay announced that a senior legal figure will carry out a review after a scathing report by MPs said the inquiry’s response to ‘sexual abuse’ claims had been ‘wholly inadequate’.
The announcement raises the farcical prospect of lawyers investigating lawyers in an independent review into an independent inquiry. The humiliating climbdown for the fourth chairman of Britain’s biggest inquiry came as furious MPs and victims’ groups said the £100 million probe was acting as a ‘law unto itself’.
Solicitor Imran Khan, who represents the Whiteflowers Alba survivors’ group, said: ‘Given the damning indictment of her leadership, Prof Jay owes it to the victims of child sexual abuse to resign.’ MP Chuku Umunna also said she should quit.
As the crisis engulfing the inquiry turned to farce, it was revealed that:
Prof Jay faced a secrecy row as it was revealed lawyers who have resigned from the probe have been blocked from speaking out;
The inquiry solicitor tried to stop MPs scrutinising its work, saying that its child abuse investigations would be compromised;
One lawyer has defied the inquiry’s gagging order, suggesting staff had been put at risk as ‘reputational advantage’ was put ‘ahead of a duty to investigate’;
Home Secretary Amber Rudd faced criticism for her ‘regrettable’ failure to provide MPs with information about the resignation of the previous chairman, Dame Lowell Goddard;
Dame Lowell was blasted for her ‘disgraceful’ refusal to give evidence to MPs;
The inquiry was told to split its work into two sections – looking at past abuse and current child protection – amid concerns about its mammoth scope.
In its report last night, the home affairs select committee delivered a devastating verdict on the work of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and its handling of allegations against Ben Emmerson, QC.
Mr Emmerson, the inquiry’s top lawyer, resigned on September 29 following a claim, which he categorically denies, that he sexually assaulted a female inquiry worker in the lift at its offices. By the time he quit, he had already been suspended by the inquiry after Prof Jay expressed concerns about his ‘leadership’. But when he walked out, she dropped the investigation and gave him a glowing reference.
A source close to the inquiry has told the Mail that Prof Jay knew of the alleged sexual assault in early September, even though the victim did not make an official complaint. But the inquiry chairman has refused to act until now, despite Mr Emmerson facing an inquiry by his own chambers.
The committee’s report said: ‘ On the basis of the evidence we have seen, we do not believe that IICSA has taken seriously enough its responsibility to pursue allegations of bullying or disclosures of sexual assault within the inquiry. Nor do we
‘This is a cover-up of a cover-up’
believe it has done enough to demonstrate publicly that it has a robust approach to such matters.’
The committee has written to seven lawyers – including Mr Emmerson – who have been leaving the probe at an ‘alarming rate’. But the four who have responded so far say they have been banned from speaking out under contractual rules.
The inquiry has refused to waive legal privilege, which prevents all communications between a lawyer and their client from being disclosed without the permission of the client, which in the case is the inquiry.
IICSA solicitor Martin Smith also wrote to committee chairman Yvette Cooper, saying MPs ran the risk of ‘compromising the inquiry’s investigations’ with their interference.
But one lawyer, Hugh Davies, QC, who was junior counsel to the inquiry until he quit last December, defied the gagging order yesterday, saying there was an ‘exceptional’ public interest in tackling reports of ‘different forms of bullying’ and ‘alleged sexual abuse within IICSA’s premises’.
He warned that the inquiry had failed to protect its staff, saying: ‘History demonstrates that where bullying or other abuse reflects an imbalance of power between individuals, it is more likely to be repeated.
‘As matters stand, however, there is an impression that rather than investigating the disclosures to meet these safeguarding objectives, IICSA has reached a de facto compromise agreement with the subject of the disclosures, and ended the investigation.
‘There is no evidence of consideration having been given to either the possibility of recurrence within the inquiry; or what investigation was required, even if the person making disclosure did not wish to pursue a formal complaint; or to the risk to future employees who may work with the subject of complaint in the future (whether at IICSA or elsewhere).’
Miss Cooper said: ‘The response from the current inquiry team to allegations of bullying or sexual assault within the inquiry itself has been wholly inadequate. Given that the inquiry was set up to challenge institutions for covering up internal problems or ignoring abuses of power, it is crucial that the inquiry shows it has a robust and transparent approach to dealing with problems of its own.’
Committee member Mr Umunna, the constituency MP to the largest survivors’ group who are boycotting the inquiry after branding it an ‘unpalatable circus’, said: ‘I do not see how Professor Alexis Jay can carry on in the role. There must be sufficient transparency to deal with the perception that this is being swept under the carpet in a cover-up.’
Andrew Lavery of Whiteflowers Alba said: ‘This is a disgrace. The inquiry’s instructions to these lawyers amount to a cover-up of a cover-up. If we can’t find out what happened in a lift, what hope is there of getting to the truth of how children were abused.’
Last night Prof Jay said: ‘We recognise that the past few months have been difficult for the inquiry and for the victims and survivors who have placed their trust in it.
‘I am personally sorry for any unnecessary anxiety the inquiry may have caused to victims and survivors during this transitional period. The inquiry will invite an external senior legal figure to review some of the issues raised in the committee’s report.’