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15.08.16

New child abuse inquiry chair determined to make ‘progress’ and ‘increase momentum’

Professor Alexis Jay has been appointed as the fourth chair of the government’s independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, and has said she is determined to make progress on all aspects of the programme’s work, including speaking to victims and survivors.

The child protection expert, who led the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, which found that at least 1,400 children were subjected to appalling sexual exploitation in the town between 1997 and 201, was appointed to the position by home secretary Amber Rudd.

Earlier this month, Justice Lowell Goddard offered her resignation as chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Abuse. Her resignation came the day after The Times newspaper reported that she had taken three months of holiday since being appointed a year ago.

Speaking after her appointment, Prof Jay said: “I am committed to ensuring this inquiry does everything it has set out to do and does so with pace, with confidence and with clarity.

“Be in no doubt – the inquiry is open for business and people are busier than ever working hard to increase momentum. The panel and I are determined to make progress on all parts of the inquiry’s work, including speaking to victims and survivors.

“I am determined to overcome the challenges along the way. I will lead the largest public inquiry of its kind and together with my fellow panel members we will fearlessly examine institutional failures, past and present and make recommendations so that the children of England and Wales are better protected now and in the future.”

The inquiry, which opened in July 2014 following revelations about historic abuse by famous figures such as Jimmy Saville and Cyril Smith, has been beset with problems.

Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the first chair, resigned almost immediately over accusations of a potential conflict of interest. Her brother, the late Sir Michael Havers, was attorney general when some of the accusations were made in the 1980s. 

Butler-Sloss was replaced by Dame Fiona Woolf, but victim support groups and professional bodies also threatened to withdraw their support from the inquiry if the then home secretary Theresa May did not appoint a new panel and give it statutory powers. 

Woolf then resigned in November 2014 over allegations that she had a ‘close association’ with Leon Brittain, the late Conservative peer against whom accusations of abuse were dropped. May abolished the inquiry and established a new one under Goddard’s leadership in July 2015. 

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, welcomed the latest appointment.

“Prof Jay is clearly a suitable candidate with vast experience in these matters, is already a panel member, and has been commended for her inquiry in Rotherham,” he said.

“I am sure the home secretary will have noted that Prof Jay will be the first chair of the inquiry without legal or judicial qualifications. I hope it will be fourth time lucky, as we must not let the victims and survivors down.”

Goddard has been asked to appear before the Home Affairs Committee on 6 September to explain her resignation.

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