UK

Leading barrister: Child abuse inquiry has 'crumbled'

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Media captionMichael Mansfield QC: "This is Hamlet without Hamlet"

The child sexual abuse inquiry has "crumbled" and may be impossible to fix, a leading barrister has said.

Michael Mansfield QC told the BBC the best way forward was to have separate chairs overseeing different areas.

The inquiry has been battling to keep the confidence of victims after losing its third chair, Dame Lowell Goddard, and a succession of senior lawyers.

Mr Mansfield represented the families of victims in the Bloody Sunday inquiry and the Hillsborough inquest.

'Seriously wrong'

A number of lawyers have expressed concerns over the leadership and direction of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse which has been charged with investigating allegations of child sexual abuse in a wide range of institutions from the Anglican and Catholic churches to Westminster.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Lowell Goddard was the third chair of the inquiry - she resigned in August

Mr Mansfield told BBC Newsnight: "We've got to a stage now where it's crumbled, there's no other word for it.

"What has gone seriously wrong here is a dismal failure to consult with the survivors' groups from the beginning about appointments and about the substantive materials to be assembled, secondly the actual appointments of the chair have been inappropriate, one after another.

"Of course some of the groups are saying 'are these mistakes being made on purpose?'"

The inquiry can expect more attention later this week when correspondence between the Home Affairs Select Committee and some of the inquiry's former lawyers is published. Newsnight understands that the inquiry told the lawyers not to engage with the Committee.


Lawyers who have quit the inquiry:

Hugh Davies QC - deputy counsel to the inquiry (December 2015)

Toby Fisher - joint first junior counsel to the inquiry (August 2015)

Elizabeth Prochaska - joint first junior counsel to the inquiry (September 2016)

Ben Emmerson QC - lead counsel on the inquiry (September 2016)

Aileen McColgan - lead barrister on inquiry investigations into the Anglican and Catholic churches (November 2016)


'Extremely bad'

However, it understood the inquiry's former deputy chief counsel, Hugh Davies, is highly critical of the its handling of an alleged incident of sexual assault of a staff member by the former lead counsel, Ben Emmerson.

Last month Newsnight reported that the alleged incident had been disclosed to the panel which oversees the inquiry but Mr Emmerson was allowed to resign with no investigation of the allegation, or any other concerns.

Mr Emmerson has robustly denied that he sexually assaulted a colleague, or any other improper behaviour.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Ben Emmerson QC, the most senior lawyer on the inquiry, resigned at the end of September

The inquiry has denied that it received any complaint about a sexual assault, although it has not commented on whether it was notified of an alleged incident.

Mr Mansfield said the best way of saving the inquiry was to have "a panel of chairs, maybe half a dozen, with at least two lawyers in there, teams of lawyers doing different modules, dealing with different areas including different geographical areas as well as historical periods".

However he said it was not clear whether the inquiry could be rescued: "All we get are assurances that it's going to be all right on the night. Well I'm afraid I don't accept that.

"It looks extremely bad from outside and I can't see it ploughing on without the main actor [the victims]. This is Hamlet without Hamlet."

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said: "It would not be appropriate for us to comment on Home Affairs Committee business."

Jake Morris was reporting for BBC Newsnight - you can watch his report here

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