Child sex abuse inquiry: Dame Lowell Goddard must explain resignation, say MPs

Dame Lowell Goddard Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Dame Lowell Goddard was the third head of the inquiry into child sex abuse to quit

MPs have asked the former head of the child sex abuse inquiry to explain her departure amid concerns the government was aware of misconduct claims.

Dame Lowell Goddard quit in August. On Friday she denied allegations of misconduct and racism which the Times said had been made against her.

The Home Office's top civil servant has also been asked to explain to MPs what ministers knew about her resignation.

Prime Minister Theresa May and the home secretary may also be asked to appear.

Asked if the inquiry was now an embarrassment, Mrs May told the BBC: "No, it's very important.

"We have to remember about all the survivors and victims of child sexual abuse who deserve justice."

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is investigating the extent to which institutions in England and Wales have failed to protect children from sexual abuse.

Dame Lowell was appointed in February 2015 and became the third inquiry head to quit, resigning in August after 18 months in the role.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the Home Affairs Select Committee at the time that she believed Dame Lowell left because the New Zealand judge "found it too lonely; she was a long way from home"

But on Friday, the Times reported that Dame Lowell had been accused of making racist comments and being rude to junior staff, and that senior Home Office staff and advisers knew about alleged comments and other complaints.

The judge hit back at the claims, and called them "false" and "malicious".

The Home Office later said it had been "made aware of concerns about the professionalism and competence of Justice Goddard" on 29 July, six days before she resigned and several weeks before the home secretary appeared before the committee and made no mention of the concerns.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Chuka Umunna said Dame Lowell 'owes it to the survivors and their families' to answer MPs

The committee has asked Dame Lowell to appear either in person or by video link from her home in New Zealand.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who is a member of the committee, said: "Not only would this help with the smooth running of the inquiry going forward, but I believe she owes it to the survivors and their families."

Home Office permanent secretary Mark Sedwill will be asked to appear in front of the committee, possibly as early as Tuesday.

MP Tim Loughton, the committee's acting chair, said Mr Sedwill would be giving evidence "on the basis that he was sitting alongside the new home secretary [Ms Rudd] when the committee questioned her about the Lowell Goddard situation."

Mr Loughton said the committee would also need to "decide whether to call Theresa May, rather than Amber Rudd, as she was home secretary when the whole thing came to a head about Lowell Goddard".

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Diane Abbott said Mrs May and her former department had "serious questions to answer"

Diane Abbott MP, Labour's shadow home secretary, said they were "grave allegations" and demanded an assurance there had been no attempt to cover up the accusations made about Dame Lowell.

"Because if true, it would mean that the home secretary knowingly put at risk the integrity of the entire inquiry," she said.

Though the child abuse inquiry is independent of the government, the Home Office would have had the power to remove the judge from her post, but a Home Office statement said it had received no formal complaint.

A source on the committee said it did not have the power to compel Dame Lowell to appear but suggested it could announce a formal censure if she failed to give further evidence.

The committee is to question the new chair, Prof Alexis Jay, on Tuesday.

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