Friday 15 December 2017

Dame Lowell Goddard third chairwoman to quit child sex abuse inquiry

Helen William

Dame Lowell Goddard has quit as head of Britain's troubled independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, saying the troubled investigation has struggled to shake off its "legacy of failure".

The New Zealand high court judge - who was appointed to the role in April 2015 - is now the inquiry's third chairwoman to have resigned.

The inquiry has been beset by setbacks since it was set up in 2014 amid claims of an establishment cover-up following allegations a paedophile ring operated in Westminster in the 1980s.

In a statement, Dame Lowell, 67, said: "The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this.

"Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and, with hindsight, it would have been better to have started completely afresh.

"While it has been a struggle in many respects, I am confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard.

"I have nothing but the greatest of respect for the victims and survivors, and have particularly enjoyed working with the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel which I established."

Dame Lowell stated her resignation was "with immediate effect" as she quit in a resignation letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd on Thursday afternoon.

In her statement, Dame Lowell recalls having thought long and hard before taking on the crucial role.

This included "careful" top-level talks with senior legal and political officials, both in Britain and New Zealand, about it.

She did not give full details about her departure but stated: "I decided that I should undertake the role, given my relevant experience and track record in the area.

"It was, however, an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family."

In accepting Dame Lowell's resignation, Ms Rudd wrote: "I know that this will have been a difficult decision for you to make, and something you will have carefully considered. I was sorry to receive your letter, but I accept your decision."

Read more: Child sex abuse victim claims he was 'hand-picked, trafficked to London and molested by very powerful people'

Ms Rudd described the inquiry, which has launched 13 investigations including strongly-denied claims linked to Lord Greville Janner, as the "most ambitious public inquiry ever established in England and Wales". She praised Dame Lowell for having helped it to make progress.

Ms Rudd stated: "I know how personally committed you have been to ensuring that the inquiry is a success for those at its heart: the survivors and the victims.

"You have consistently demonstrated your desire to leave no stone unturned in order that the voices of those victims might be heard.

"It is a testament to your commitment that you have taken the difficult decision to stand down now, having set the inquiry firmly on course, and allow someone else to lead it through to the end. With regret, I agree that this the right decision."

The resignation immediately triggered concern from abuse victims and their representatives.

A National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children spokesman said: "Whatever the reasons for Judge Lowell Goddard's decision to stand down it is essential that the inquiry continues with minimum disruption and a replacement chair is found urgently.

"Victims and survivors have already waited too long to have their voices heard and for the abuse they suffered as children to be acknowledged and believed."

Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon who represents more than 50 victims giving evidence at the inquiry, said: "Our clients hope that the news of Dame Goddard's resignation, the third resignation of a judge in an inquiry hampered by setbacks, does not further delay this fundamentally important process.

"It is incredibly important for survivors that the inquiry continues so the truth is uncovered and their voices are finally heard. It is crucial that the Home Secretary appoints a new chair as soon as possible so this can happen."

She had spent more than 70 days working abroad or on holiday during her time in charge.

An inquiry spokesman said she had spent 44 days in New Zealand and Australia on inquiry business and was entitled to 30 days' annual leave.

Baroness Butler-Sloss stood down in July 2014 amid questions over the role played by her late brother, Lord Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s.

Her replacement Dame Fiona Woolf resigned following a barrage of criticism over her "establishment links", most notably in relation to former home secretary Leon Brittan, who died in 2015.

Mrs May officially reconstituted the probe under Dame Lowell in March 2015 and placed it on a statutory footing, meaning it has the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.

The inquiry's terms of reference say that its purpose includes considering "the extent to which state and non-state institutions have failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation".

Lord Janner, who died aged 87 in December, is alleged to have abused children over a period of 30 years, with offences said to have taken place in children's homes and hotels.

Some of Lord Janner's accusers have started civil proceedings to sue his estate, according to his son Daniel Janner QC.

Mr Janner told the Press Association: "I was about to demand Justice Goddard's resignation tomorrow as she had refused my application last week to adjourn the inquiry pending the civil proceedings.

"The obscenity of a proxy prosecution against a dead and innocent man who cannot defend himself must stop.

"This is a manifestation of a national frenzy. My late father is not an institution and Goddard was set up to look at institutional failings.

"We are not even given the right to cross-exam in the Goddard inquiry which is why we refused to participate.

"We now seek justice in the civil proceedings."

Press Association

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