The Westminster Child Abuse Inquiry

The Chancellor, George Osborne, has stated that the government needs to get to the bottom of allegations against politicians over child abuse claims in the 1980s. Speaking from India, where he is touring with the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, Osborne said: “We need to get to the truth…We need to get to the bottom of what happened in many of our institutions, including potentially at Westminster.”

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has been asked to set up an inquiry into how the Home Office handled the allegations at the time. There has also been a call for a full public inquiry to run alongside a criminal investigation.

May is under pressure to explain how her department managed to lose or destroy over one hundred files about alleged organised paedophilia made in the 1980s. This follows the government’s confirmation that four previously undisclosed allegations were passed to the police just last year.

The inquiry will cover two main issues, the first being how the Home Office originally responded to the dossiers that they received about alleged child abuse in the 1980s. The second issue is whether public bodies and other institutions have taken their duty of care to children seriously. This means that aside from the current ongoing police investigation, that there will be three separate inquiries into child abuse committed during the 1980s by top figures in the country at the time.

A Home Office spokesperson has revealed that an internal investigation conducted by an independent expert just last year found “thirteen items of information about alleged child abuse.”

He then added: “The police already knew about nine of those items, and the remaining four were passed to the police immediately. It is important that we do not pre-empt or prejudice any related police investigations.”

To head the inquiry, May appointed Lady Butler-Sloss to chair the panel. This decision has caused uproar within some victim support groups, however. This is due to the fact that Butler-Sloss’ late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was Attorney General during that time. This means that she would have to investigate to see if her brother was involved in any political cover-up with regard to claims of organised paedophilia taking place with politicians and important public figures during the 1980s.

Following her appointment, Butler-Sloss was contacted by the former Solicitor General, Vera Baird, advising her to stand down. Pointing out that her acceptance of the position was a family conflict of interest. Within hours, a statement was issued to such an effect and Lady Butler-Sloss promptly resigned from the post.

Butler-Sloss said that she had been honoured by the invitation but went on to add: “It has become apparent over the last few days, however, that there is a widespread perception, particularly among victim and survivor groups, that I am not the right person to chair the inquiry. It has also become clear to me that I did not sufficiently consider whether my background and the fact my brother had been Attorney General would cause difficulties.”

She concluded her statement by saying: “Having listened to the concerns of victim and survivor groups and the criticisms of MPs and the media, I have come to the conclusion that I should not chair this inquiry and have so informed the Home Secretary. I should like to add that I have dedicated my life to public service, to the pursuit of justice and to protecting the rights of children and families and I wish the inquiry success in its important work.”

The Chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, raised concerns about the appointment with the Home Office Permanent Secretary, Mark Sedwill.

Vaz has said: “I am not surprised by this decision – it is the right one. As I pointed out to Mr Sedwill, the public would be concerned that a Member of Parliament, no matter how distinguished, had been appointed to head this particular panel. The whole inquiry process is becoming shambolic: missing files, ministers refusing to read reports and now the chair resigning before the inquiry has even commenced.”

We will, of course, endeavour to keep you up to date with developments in this inquiry over the coming weeks and months.