3 Nov 2014

Theresa May apologises for child abuse inquiry failings

Home Secretary Theresa May says she is sorry that the inquiry into historical child abuse does not have a chairman, four months after she announced its formation.

Mrs May was speaking to MPs following the resignation last week of inquiry chairman Fiona Woolf and her predecessor Elizabeth Butler-Sloss’s decision to stand down in July.

“Almost four months after I announced my intention to establish a panel inquiry it is obviously very disappointing that we do not yet have a panel chairman and for that I want to tell survivors that I am sorry,” she said.

The inquiry will examine how public bodies handled allegations and claims of child sex abuse in the past 40 years, up to the present day. It will hold its first meeting next Wednesday.

Ms May said it will be enormously difficult to find a chairman people will not have concerns about, but that she would begin meeting survivors next week, as well as meet MPs who campaigned for the inquiry.

She said that it “will not be straightforward to find a chairman” who has “both the expertise to do this hugely important work and has had no contact at all with an institution or an individual about whom people have concerns”.

‘Once in a generation opportunity’

But the home secretary said that this is a “once in a generation opportunity” to expose what went wrong in institutions and public bodies and to prevent it from happening again.

The nominated chairman will be grilled by the home affairs select committee before taking up the post she also said.

It was also announced that regional forums would be held in order for more survivors of child abuse have their voices heard.

The shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that Labour will support the government in ensuring the inquiry gets back on track, but said that the home secretary must not ignore modern-day abuse and weaknesses in the child protection regime.

Fiona Woolf resigned as chairman of the inquiry on Friday after the controversy that followed the revelation that that she had social links to Lord Brittan. His handling of abuse claims in the 1980s has been questioned.

The home secretary also said that the government would next week publish the Wanless Report into what the Home Office did with the Geoffrey Dickens dossier on abuse allegations in the 1980s.

The terms of the reference for the inquiry would not be limited, Ms May said, and that the panel would have the power to make the inquiry be put on a statutory basis, giving it more power, if required.