UK Politics

Theresa May 'sorry' for two abuse inquiry resignations

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Media captionHome Secretary Theresa May: ''We do not yet have a panel chairman.. I want to tell survivors (of abuse) that I am sorry''

Home Secretary Theresa May has said she is "sorry" that the inquiry into historical child abuse has no chairman, following two resignations.

Fiona Woolf resigned on Friday, saying victims did not have confidence in her.

She had faced pressure to quit over her social links to ex-Home Secretary Lord Brittan, whose handling of abuse claims in the 1980s has been questioned.

Predecessor Baroness Butler-Sloss resigned four months ago, also over her links with establishment figures.

The inquiry will continue its work while a new chairman is sought.

Labour has said the next chairman must have the confidence of victims' groups, while Lib Dem peer Lord Carlile said they should have experience of dealing with child abuse and child protection.

'Expertise'

Mrs May said she would hold meetings with victims' representatives, starting next week.

The home secretary told MPs: "It's obviously very disappointing that we do not now have an inquiry chairman. For that I want to tell survivors (of abuse) that I'm sorry."

She added: "It will not be easy to find a chairman with the expertise to do this job and who has had no contact with an institution or individual about whom there are concerns."

Mrs May said the Home Affairs Committee would get to question the chosen candidate before they are appointed and that she would discuss the issue with Labour's shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Fiona Woolf stepped down as inquiry chairman last week

The home secretary read a direct message to abuse victims, saying: "I know you have experienced terrible things. I know we cannot imagine what that must be like.

"And I know that, perhaps because of the identity of your abusers or the way you were treated when you needed help, many of you have lost trust in the authorities."

But she added: "We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something that is hugely important. Together we can expose what has gone wrong in the past, we can prevent it."

Mrs May announced the inquiry panel's preliminary hearings would begin on 12 November and take place every Wednesday until Christmas. There would also be six regional events going in to the new year, at which victims would give evidence.

"These will provide an early opportunity to hear their views about how the panel should go about its work," she said.

Mrs May said the results of a separate review into how the Home Office dealt with an investigation into child sex abuse allegations between 1979 and 1999 would be published next week.

'Integrity'

The main inquiry, announced in July, was set up to look at how public bodies and other institutions handled claims of child sex abuse from the 1970s to the present day.

This followed claims over many years about paedophiles in powerful places and alleged establishment attempts to cover up their actions.

Baroness Butler-Sloss stepped down a week after being appointed when concerns were raised about her late brother being attorney general during the 1980s.

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Media captionShadow home secretary Yvette Cooper: ''We need strong action to protect children and make sure that they go heard in the future''

BBC deputy political editor James Landale said whoever was chosen needed to have "a lot of time" on their hands as they would effectively have to devote three years to the role.

In the Commons, Ms Cooper said the inquiry had become "mired by confusion", adding: "So can I welcome the changes that you have announced today and also your apology to survivors of abuse for the things that have gone wrong?

"This House will be united in our determination that this inquiry should get back on track."

Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, rejected suggestions the job had become a "poisoned chalice".

"We're an island of 64 million people, and I'm certain that we have someone with the skills, the leadership qualities, the integrity, and the ability to have a hands-on approach for what will be a very long inquiry," he said.

Former Home Secretary Jack Straw suggested the search should be extended overseas to include foreign candidates, while former Culture Secretary Maria Miller said victims were "concerned" at the delays.

Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, told the BBC that while there would be "quite a lot of people" with the necessary legal expertise to do the job, if they were successful they may have had contact with people connected with the inquiry, "because of the way the system works".

Investigatory powers

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children's Society, said: "The government's announcement today that the inquiry's work will continue while it takes steps to find a new chair is critical given the delays so far.

"It is crucial that this inquiry is given the power it needs to investigate abuse, past and present. This is only possible if it has the authority to compel individuals and organisations to appear and give evidence."

Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood, said Mrs May's apology had been "profound" and that it was important for her to meet victims before a list of candidates was drawn up.

Mrs Woolf's appointment was criticised by victims after it emerged she had social links to former Home Secretary Lord Brittan, who may be called to give evidence during the inquiry. He denies any wrongdoing in the way a "dossier" on alleged high-profile paedophiles was handled.

Mrs Woolf, the Lord Mayor of London, disclosed she had lived in the same street as Lord Brittan and had dinner with him five times between 2008 and 2012 - but said he was not a "close associate".

She drew further criticism when Mr Vaz revealed a letter she sent to the committee about her relationship with the Conservative peer had been rewritten seven times.


Abuse inquiry: How we got here

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mrs Woolf came under pressure due to her links with Lord Brittan

1 July - MP Simon Danczuk calls on former Home Secretary Leon Brittan to say what he knew about paedophile allegations passed to him in the 1980s

7 July - Government announces independent inquiry into the way public bodies investigated and handled child sex abuse claims. Baroness Butler-Sloss chosen as head

9 July - Baroness Butler-Sloss faces calls to quit because her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was attorney general in the 1980s

14 July - She stands down, saying she is "not the right person" for the job

5 September - Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf named the new head of the inquiry

11 October - Mrs Woolf discloses she had five dinners with Lord Brittan from 2008-12

22 October - Abuse victim launches legal challenge against Mrs Woolf leading the inquiry, amid growing calls for her resignation

31 October - Victims' groups tell government officials they are "unanimous" Mrs Woolf should quit. She steps down later that day


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