27 February 2017
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales has held its first full public hearing with an examination of allegations made by children in care who were sent abroad.
The inquiry aims to investigate claims against local authorities, religious organisations, the armed forces and public and private institutions – as well as people in the public eye. But it has been dogged with controversy since being announced in July 2014, be it chairwomen coming and going, lawyers quitting their posts or victims’ groups losing faith in the process.
Why was the inquiry set up?
Following the death of BBC DJ Jimmy Savile in 2011, hundreds of people came forward to say he had abused them as children. The spotlight has also fallen on sexual assaults carried out in schools, children’s homes and at NHS sites.
At the same time, there have been claims of past failures by police and prosecutors to properly investigate allegations.
The inquiry was announced by the then Home Secretary Theresa May to “expose those failures and learn the lessons” from the past.
How will the inquiry work?
The inquiry is expected to take about five years to complete, with a report containing recommendations being published at the end.
It will be divided into public hearings into specific areas of concern, with witnesses giving evidence under oath; research into institutional failures in child protection, and the so-called Truth Project in which victims will share their experiences with the inquiry either in private interviews or written form.
The inquiry will not seek to determine civil or criminal liability of individuals or organisations but may reach “findings of fact” in relation to this.
Allegations of child abuse received by the inquiry will be referred to police and material related to Scotland, Northern Ireland or British Overseas Territories will be passed on to the authorities there.
A separate inquiry looking at the abuse of children in care in Scotland has been set up by the Scottish Government.
Who is carrying out the inquiry?
The inquiry is being led by Prof Alexis Jay, a former director of social services who headed the inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
She is being assisted by a panel of advisers: law professor and human rights expert Malcolm Evans; child protection barrister Ivor Frank; and lawyer Drusilla Sharpling, a former Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, who has worked as an inspector of constabulary since 2009.
A separate panel will represent victims and survivors.
Brian Altman QC is lead counsel to the inquiry.
What are the first hearings about?
The inquiry is opening with hearings over two weeks looking at the cases of British children in care who were sent to to parts of the British Empire including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and what was Southern Rhodesia between 1920 and the 1970s. The UK government issued an apology in 2010 for its role in the child migration programmes.
The hearings will take evidence from former child migrants and form part of a wider investigation into the way organisations have protected children outside the UK.
The hearings are being held at the International Dispute Resolution Centre in Fleet Street, central London.
Preliminary hearings in the inquiry began in March at the nearby Royal Courts of Justice.
What else is the IICSA investigating?
The first phase of the inquiry consists of 13 separate investigations over a period of about 18 months.
It will also consider:
- Alleged failings at Lambeth and Nottinghamshire councils; Cambridge House Boys’ Hostel, Knowl View School and other institutions arranged by Rochdale Borough Council; the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches; custodial institutions, residential schools, and the support services and legal remedies available to victims and survivors
- “Areas of contemporary concern” including the internet and organised abuse networks
- Allegations of child sexual abuse by “people of public prominence associated with Westminster” and claims of cover-ups
- Allegations against the late Lord Janner, the former Labour peer who in 2015 was ruled unfit to stand trial on child sexual abuse charges.
The evidence given at the public hearings is expected to cover a number of other cases that have attracted headlines in recent years, including late MP Cyril Smith and claims of sexual abuse at care homes in north Wales.
So what has gone wrong?
The main bone of contention has been the turbulent history over the past two years surrounding who is in charge.
The first chairwoman of the inquiry appointed in July 2014 was Baroness Butler-Sloss. However, she resigned just one week later after concerns arose around her links to the establishment – namely her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s.
In September 2014, Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf was named the new head, but after disclosing she had been to five dinners with the late Lord Brittan – one of the people facing accusations at the time, which have since been dropped – she quit by the end of October.
In February 2015, Justice Lowell Goddard, a serving judge of the High Court of New Zealand, took over the reins and was in charge as inquiry began hearing directly from victims and survivors. But by August 2016, she had resigned her post as well due to “compounding difficulties” and her family life.
A number of lawyers have also resigned or been removed from the process.
In November 2016, he largest of the victims’s groups involved in the inquiry, the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, pulled out and said it had lost confidence in the inquiry’s leadership.
And public hearings into allegations of abuse relating to Lord Janner that were due to start in March have been delayed because of an “overlap” with a criminal investigation. His family are still calling for the strand of the inquiry to be dropped.
How much is this all costing?
The IICSA has a budget of £17.9m in its first year, funded by the Home Office, with staff accounting for 41%.
Prof Jay is to be paid £185,000 – almost half her predecessor’s salary – while panel members will each receive £565 a day.