Dame Lowell Goddard preferred to work alone, MPs told

Dame Lowell Goddard Image copyright AFP
Image caption Dame Lowell Goddard was a New Zealand High Court judge

Dame Lowell Goddard, the former head of the inquiry into child sexual abuse, kept panel members at a distance and wanted to work alone, MPs have heard.

In evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, her successor, Prof Alexis Jay, said had she not resigned, things would have been "very difficult".

It also emerged that concerns were raised to the Home Office about Dame Lowell's leadership in April.

She resigned three months later, citing the inquiry's "legacy of failure".

The inquiry, set up in 2014, has been beset by controversy. Two other chairwomen, aside from Justice Goddard, have also resigned.

The committee quizzed Prof Jay - who was previously a member of the panel - and two current panel members about Dame Lowell's departure and the inquiry's progress.

Who is Justice Lowell Goddard?

Image caption Ivor Frank, Alexis Jay and Drusilla Sharpling, left to right, give evidence

Panel member Ivor Frank, a human rights barrister, was asked whether Dame Lowell, a New Zealand high court judge, was a "nightmare to work with".

"I would not use that language. I would prefer to say there were challenges," he replied.

He said she was not always present in the UK during her 16-month tenure and the panel was able to continue working without very much contact.

"There were times when things were perfectly amicable and perfectly professional, there were other times when it was less the case," he told the committee.

Another panel member, Drusilla Sharpling, also a barrister, told the hearing she had reported concerns about Dame Lowell's leadership qualities to a director general at the Home Office at the end of April.

She told MPs she had concerns - not a complaint - and did not give anyone permission to "spread these concerns amongst anybody else" and did not ask for any action to be taken.

'Controlling mind'

Mark Sedwill, permanent secretary at the Home Office, who also faced the committee, said he had not heard "rumblings" about Dame Lowell's performance.

He has already said that the first time he was made aware of concerns was on 29 July, six days before she resigned.

"Had I picked up rumblings because we have former (Home Office) staff working on the inquiry? The answer to that is no," he said.

Who is Alexis Jay?

Image caption Prof Alexis Jay is the fourth chair to lead the inquiry
  • Born in Edinburgh and educated at the Moray House School of Education, now part of the University of Edinburgh
  • Led the Rotherham abuse inquiry, which concluded in August 2014 that 1,400 children in the South Yorkshire town had been subjected to sexual abuse
  • Former chief social worker to the Scottish government and spent more than 30 years working in local councils in deprived areas of Edinburgh and Glasgow
  • Visiting professor at Strathclyde University, where she chairs the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland
  • In 2015 received an honorary doctorate from the same university
  • Awarded an OBE in the 2012 Birthday Honours List for services to children and families

Prof Jay said that of the 166 employees working on the inquiry, "just over 20%" had previously worked for the Home Office.

The committee suggested this made it harder for abuse survivors to have confidence in the "independence" of the inquiry.

But Ms Sharpling insisted: "The chair and the panel are the controlling mind of this inquiry."

'Never in crisis'

During questioning, Prof Jay denied the inquiry had been "an unhappy ship".

She said a great deal of work had been done, it had always been "open for business" and it was not true to say it was ever in crisis.

But she said that had Dame Lowell not stepped down, it would have been "very difficult" for the work of the inquiry to be carried out.

In her resignation letter from August, Dame Lowell said the inquiry had a "legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off".

She has since been accused of using racist language, something she has strongly denied.

Asked by the committee about these reports, Prof Jay said she could not talk about any aspect of human resources or personnel experience in the inquiry, saying it was confidential.

Pay-off queried

In her post, Dame Lowell was receiving £360,000 a year, plus allowances and flights home to New Zealand, the committee heard.

An £80,000 pay-off - two months of that package - was negotiated with Dame Lowell's legal representatives, Mark Sedwill said.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna questioned why she needed a pay-off as she was the one leaving a job she had committed to.

Dame Lowell's predecessors, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Dame Fiona Woolf, both quit over alleged conflicts of interest.

Senior lawyer Ben Emmerson QC also stepped down last month.

Abuse inquiry: How we got here

7 July 2014 - 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

4 February 2015 - Justice Lowell Goddard, a serving judge of the High Court of New Zealand, announced as the new head of the inquiry

13 July - Dame Lowell's pay is revealed as more than £480,000 a year

November - inquiry begins hearing directly from victims and survivors

4 August 2016 - Dame Lowell writes to Home Secretary Amber Rudd to resign from her post

11 August 2016 - Prof Alexis Jay announced as new head of the inquiry

30 September - Ben Emmerson QC, the most senior lawyer working for the inquiry, steps down

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