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Third chair of child sexual abuse inquiry resigns

The inquiry into historic allegations of childhood sexual abuse has suffered another setback after the third person to hold the office of chair resigned.

Justice Lowell Goddard offered her resignation as chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Abuse to home secretary Amber Rudd yesterday.

The day before, The Times newspaper reported that Goddard had taken three months of holiday since being appointed a year ago.

In her statement, Goddard cast doubt on the conduct of the inquiry, saying: “The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this.

“Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.”

In her response to Goddard’s resignation letter, Rudd called the inquiry “the most ambitious public inquiry ever established in England and Wales” and said that its success “remains an absolute priority for this government”.

Goddard, a New Zealand High Court judge who led an inquiry into child sexual abuse in her own country, was chosen because of her lack of links to the British establishment after the two previous chairs resigned because of questions over their connections to prominent figures.

The inquiry opened in July 2014 following revelations about historic abuse by famous figures such as Jimmy Saville and Cyril Smith.

However, 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.

At the time, Goddard promised that the inquiry would extend “from the corridors of power in Westminster to children’s homes in the poorest parts of the country”.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chair of the home affairs committee, said: “Serious questions need to be asked about why the Home Office has not monitored events more carefully.

“We will expect a full explanation from both the prime minister and the new home secretary about these matters.”

Tom Watson MP, deputy leader of the Labour party, said: “The government must find a new chair as a matter of great urgency.”

Goddard’s resignation comes as new figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 11% of women and 3% of men report being sexually abused in childhood.

(Image c. PA Wire)

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