UK Politics

Child sex abuse inquiry 'should have statutory power' - May

Theresa May
Image caption Theresa May told MPs: 'It's important to make sure that we do get this right'

An inquiry into historical child abuse should be able to compel witnesses to give evidence, Home Secretary Theresa May has said.

Mrs May told MPs she was "very clear" the investigation "should have the powers of a statutory inquiry".

The panel, which has started work, still has nobody to chair it after the first two nominations stood down.

Mrs May had previously said the inquiry could become statutory if that was requested by the person leading it.

But with nobody in that role, the home secretary appeared to go further in an appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee.

She said: "The overwhelming message I'm getting from those that I have been meeting, survivors and survivors' representatives that I've been meeting, is that it's important to make sure that we do get this right.

"I'm very clear that the inquiry should have the powers of a statutory inquiry."

'Clear message'

Campaigners have been calling for the inquiry to have statutory powers, and committee chairman Keith Vaz MP asked whether it was now "accepted" that this would happen.

"The message I am very clearly getting is that this is an inquiry that should have the powers to compel people to give evidence and to enforce," Mrs May replied.

She said this could either mean waiting for a chair to be appointed, who would then request such powers, or setting up a new inquiry panel under statutory terms.

The first two nominations both resigned over links with establishment figures.

Image caption Fiona Woolf is one of two nominations to have resigned over links with establishment figures

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

The chosen replacement, Fiona Woolf, quit over her social links to ex-Home Secretary Lord Brittan, whose handling of abuse claims in the 1980s has been questioned.

Mrs May said more than 100 names had been put forward to the Home Office as potential candidates to lead the inquiry following meetings with victims' groups.

'No fettering'

The inquiry has been set up to consider whether "public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales".

Mrs May also said a cut-off date of 1970 set out in the inquiry's terms of reference could be extended to cover earlier allegations of abuse.

She said it had been a "challenge" finding someone to lead it who was suitably well-qualified and had no connections with individuals involved, and said there could be "no fettering" in its ability to "search out the truth".

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