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13.02.15

Child sex abuse inquiry should cover whole of UK say MPs

The inquiry into historic child sex abuse in England and Wales should widen its scope to look at the entire UK, MPs are urging.

It should look at cases in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where Westminster might hold material relevant to the case, a Home Affairs Committee report said. It cites claims of abuse at Kincora Boys' Home in Belfast in the 1970s as one example of where this would apply.

The Committee is concerned about avoiding “gaps” between the various inquiries in different parts of the UK. Scotland and Northern Ireland have launched separate investigations as child protection is a devolved matter.

Three senior care staff at Kincora were jailed in 1981 for abusing 11 boys. It has been claimed that senior people in MI5 were involved in covering up the abuse at the home.

Members of the Northern Ireland assembly concluded last year that the claims could only be adequately investigated by a Westminster-led UK inquiry.

There are concerns that the powers of compulsion of the Northern Ireland panel do not extend to the UK government.

It said this "calls into doubt whether it will be able to deal effectively with allegations of the possible involvement of UK government agencies in the abuse".

The new head of the inquiry, Justice Lowell Goddard, told the Home Affairs Select Committee she was willing to discuss the inclusion of Northern Ireland in the inquiry, she said she would raise it with the home secretary Theresa May if she felt it was appropriate.

The Home Affairs Committee also endorsed Justice Goddard as the new head of the much troubled inquiry. The judge from New Zealand is the third person appointed to chair the panel, after Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf both resigned amid concerns over their links with the establishment.

Committee chair Keith Vaz said: "We were impressed by the outstanding credentials of Justice Goddard, and the open and transparent way in which she gave evidence to the Committee. We believe she has the necessary skills and dedication to carry out this complex task effectively. She will be standing down from the High Court of New Zealand to take on this position full time and she will come to live in the UK. Both of these decisions show that she is strongly committed to giving this inquiry the full attention that it deserves.

“We are confident that Justice Goddard will establish full independence from the Home Office and that she will shape and lead the inquiry in the manner she decides, but with proper consideration for the survivors.  This is an important moment for the Inquiry, first established 221 days ago, and is an opportunity to renew the process after two false starts. We wish her well."

The Committee made a number of other recommendations, including:

  • The establishment of a parallel Survivors’ Forum, on a formal basis, with strong links to the Panel. This forum should be properly funded, to provide any necessary support to its members.
  • The new panel should give consideration to hiring specialist staff to provide support to abuse survivors giving evidence.
  • That the permanent secretary at the Home Office should conduct a new search of all government material, to establish that no relevant documents have been overlooked.
  • The panel should produce interim reports as frequently as it sees fit, but that the first interim report should be produced as soon as possible.
  • Justice Goddard should play a full role in the selection of panel members, as well as having a free hand over the appointment over the Inquiry Counsel and Secretariat.

The Committee also welcomed Theresa May's announcement that she was open to allowing the inquiry to investigate abuse allegations going back to before 1970.

(Image source: PA Wire)

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