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21.10.14

Home Office announces panellists for child sex abuse inquiry

Theresa May has announced her appointments to the Independent Inquiry Panel that will look into child sexual abuse within institutions.

The panel is to consider whether, and to what extent, public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.

New members Sharon Evans, Ivor Frank, Dame Moira Gibb, Professor Jenny Pearce OBE, Dru Sharpling CBE and Professor Terence Stephenson will join Graham Wilmer MBE and Barbara Hearn OBE as panel members.

Ben Emmerson QC is Counsel to the Inquiry, and Professor Alexis Jay OBE will serve as an expert adviser.

It was announced at the start of September that former Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf CBE would chair the panel.

The Inquiry will consider matters from 1970 to the present, and will include government departments, Parliament, the police, local authorities, churches and the Armed Forces.

 The home secretary said: “I am pleased to announce my appointments to the Independent Inquiry Panel which will consider whether, and to what extent, institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children.

“The Panel represents a diverse range of experience which includes social care, academia, law enforcement, health, media, the voluntary sector and those with experience of child sexual abuse.”

The inquiry panel was announced in reaction to a recent swath of child sex abuse scandals, including Jimmy Saville, the missing 1984 paedophile dossier and the Rotherham child sex abuse scandal, where a report from Professor Alexis Jay revealed that at least 1,400 children in the area had been abused over a 16 year period, and that the local council had been aware of the exploitation since 2005 but failed to act.

In a letter to Theresa May today Woolf disclosed that she had dined at the home of former home secretary Lord Brittan five times.

Lord Brittan was home secretary in 1984 when ministers were handed a dossier on alleged high-profile paedophiles that subsequently went missing.

The dossier, compiled by the late Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, was considered by Home Office officials and handed to the police but no action was taken and the information now cannot be found. Lord Brittan has insisted that proper procedures were followed.

In the letter Woolf documents several other contacts with the Brittan family, including having coffee with Lady Brittan and serving on awards and advisory bodies with them.

Woolf insists that she does not have a "close association with any interested party" relating to the inquiry's work.

She believes that none of the contacts she has mentioned "should prevent me acting as chair of the inquiry as casting any real question over my actual or apparent impartiality".

Labour MP Simon Danczuk, however, believes that she should resign from the commission because of her concerning links to the Brittan family.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "I don't know what world she inhabits but where I come from if you've been to dinner at somebody's home and vice versa then you're relative close - you'd consider them friends."

He accused the Home Office of a "total error of judgement". He said: "One mistake is forgivable... to make the same mistake twice looks like they're out to protect Leon Brittan.

"I don't buy the view that you can't choose someone to chair this inquiry who is not connected to Leon Brittan and yet the government seem to have been insistent on choosing chairpeople who are very much establishment, very much connected to people involved."

One of the issues the Woolf inquiry may look into are allegations raised in a Home Affairs Select Committee report that files were stolen in an attempt to cover up the story.

However May clearly disagrees with Danczuk, she said in a statement: “I am confident that this panel, under the chairmanship of Fiona Woolf CBE, will carry out a robust and thorough inquiry, and will challenge institutions without fear or favour, in order to get to the bottom of this issue and stop it from happening again.”

As PSE previously reported, a researcher at Rotherham council was planning on sending a report to the Home Office detailing the ignorance and indifference of senior managers at the council towards child sexual exploitation, but before she could an “unknown individual” gained access to her office and “removed all of the data relating to the Home Office work”.

The report said there were no signs of a forced entry and the action involved moving through key-coded and locked security door.

The committee called for "a full, transparent and urgent" inquiry and has called on the Home Office to do "everything in its power" to locate any missing files in its possession relating to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and other places.

A Home Office spokesman said no decisions have yet been made, but the issue of the missing files “could well be looked at as part of the Woolf inquiry”.

(Image: Theresa May c. Oli Scarff/PA Wire)

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