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Theresa May orders independent inquiry into child sex abuse

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Theresa May orders independent inquiry into child sex abuse

Home secretary agrees to call by 146 MPs for investigation by Hillsborough-style panel

By Tim WoodAlex Varley-Winter and Frederika Whitehead | 7 July 2014

“The matters that lay behind the report were allegations that… senior Conservative members of Parliament may have been involved”
– Theresa May, home secretary

Home secretary Theresa May today bowed to pressure to set up an independent inquiry into the organised sexual abuse of children throughout the UK.

She agreed to the call – ultimately by 146 MPs – for a panel inquiry.

Her statement this afternoon in the House of Commons made clear that it would be modelled on the inquiry into the Hillsborough football disaster of 1989, exactly in line with a call just over a month ago initially by a cross-party group of seven MPs in a joint letter to May. The call quickly gathered momentum in Parliament thanks to Exaro’s Twitter followers (@ExaroNews).

Only last week, May wrote to the initial group of seven MPs to refuse to order the inquiry immediately, but said that she would “thoroughly examine” the question later.

She told MPs: “I know that in recent months many members of the House, from all parties, have campaigned for an independent, overarching inquiry into historical allegations of child abuse.

“I can now tell the House that the government will establish an independent inquiry panel of experts in the law and child protection to consider whether public bodies – and other non-state institutions – have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.”

An “appropriately senior and experienced figure” will chair the panel.

“I want to be clear that the inquiry panel will have access to all the government papers, reviews and reports it needs. Subject to the constraints imposed by any criminal investigations, it will be free to call witnesses from organisations in the public sector, private sector and wider civil society.”

And, she said, it could be turned in to a public inquiry. This would give it the powers to demand documents and summon witnesses.

“I want to make clear that – if the inquiry panel chairman deems it necessary – the government is prepared to convert it into a full public inquiry,” she said.

“I want to be clear that the inquiry panel will have access to all the government papers, reviews and reports it needs. Subject to the constraints imposed by any criminal investigations, it will be free to call witnesses from organisations in the public sector, private sector and wider civil society.”

She added: “Given the scope of its work, it is not likely to report before the general election.” But she expects a progress report before the election in May next year.

MPs who backed the call for an inquiry welcomed the statement, although they sought clarification about critical points of detail.

One, Tom Watson, Labour MP, sought assurances that the inquiry would have access to intelligence papers.

Another, Simon Danczuk, also Labour, asked May how the inquiry would “engage with and thoroughly involve the victims of child sex abuse”.

She said that she wanted the inquiry to have “the fullest possible access” to government papers, but would leave the chairman of the inquiry to decide on how it would work.

May also announced a review of an investigation by the Home Office, into material on child sex abuse that the department received. This includes papers that Geoffrey Dickens, the late Conservative MP, handed to Leon (now Lord) Brittan as home secretary in 1984.

The investigation found that 114 potentially relevant files from between 1979 and 1999 were lost or destroyed.

May did not see the full report of the investigation “for very good reason”, she said.

MPs were staggered when she explained why: “The matters that lay behind the report were allegations that senior members of Parliament – and, in particular, senior Conservative members of Parliament – may have been involved in those activities.”

May appointed Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, the charity that aims to prevent child cruelty, to carry out the review of the Home Office.

She said that the inquiry and review were aimed at addressing “the sexual abuse of children” and “allegations that evidence of the sexual abuse of children was suppressed by people in positions of power.”

Theresa May’s statement to the House of Commons in full, and key exchanges with MPs.

Update 8 July 2014 3.43pm: Theresa May today appointed Baroness Butler-Sloss, former High Court judge, to chair the inquiry that the home secretary announced to Parliament.

May said: “In recent years, we have seen appalling cases of organised and persistent child sex abuse that have exposed serious failings by public bodies and important institutions.

“I am pleased to announce today that Baroness Butler-Sloss has been appointed to lead this inquiry.”

Butler-Sloss, former president of the family division of the High Court, was chairwoman of the Cleveland Child Abuse Inquiry in 1987-8, and was one of 11 Lords who declared their support for the inquiry along with 146 MPs.

She said: “I am honoured to have been invited to lead this inquiry. The next step is to appoint the panel and agree the terms of reference. We will begin this important work as soon as possible.”

Related Stories : Child sex abuse, ‘Fernbridge’ and ‘Fairbank’: Exaro story thread

Sarah Davies
Sarah Davieshttps://www.exaronews.com/
Exaro News investigates matters of public interest and seeks to uncover the truth.

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