I’ll have to start following this inquiry into child abuse in the UK. Yesterday’s news was that the judge who was appointed to chair it had stepped down because of conflicts of interest.
May had made clear that as far as she was concerned the inquiry was not being set up to replicate a police investigation into claims of a child sex ring at Westminster. Instead she said its job was to consider whether public bodies such as the NHS, the BBC and non-state institutions such as the churches “had taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse”.
It was widely expected that Butler-Sloss, 80, would convene a panel of legal and child protection experts, and come up with recommendations on child policy to ensure that a Jimmy Savile or a Stuart Hall could not get away with what they did for so long ever again.
A brave new world in which adults don’t get to treat pools of children as their personal sex toys. What a concept.
The idea was that Butler-Sloss would review the documentary evidence from the myriad recent official inquiries into child abuse across the country rather than interview witnesses who might themselves still be subject to criminal investigations.
But May also opened the door to a different kind of inquiry, saying that if Butler-Sloss deemed it necessary the government was prepared to convert it into a full public inquiry in line with the Public Inquiries Act 2005.
This immediately raised expectations among victims’ groups and media organisations that not only would the voices of victims who continue to suffer from sexual abuse inflicted on them 20 or 30 years ago be heard, but their allegations would be taken seriously.
So that wasn’t the expectation before? The expectation had been that their allegations would not be taken seriously? That seems unfortunate.
The emergence of the fact that Butler-Sloss’s brother was Lord Havers, who as attorney general in the 1980s had been responsible for some of the decisions not to prosecute, undermined her credibility but should not have proved fatal if she was only looking at the current institutional response to child abuse.
However, the subsequent disclosure that she herself had had the name of a bishop allegedly involved in child abuse withdrawn from her 2011 report into abuse in the Church of England was to prove fatal.
Uh, yeah – that’s fatal.