The national inquiry into historic child abuse is an inquiry that many people are opposed to due to its potential scope, cost and the time it could take to arrive at its conclusions. There are clearly others with ulterior motives for opposing this work. However sadly there are far too many people with a very different sort of vested interest in an effective inquiry taking place and reporting its earliest report before the Purdah period for the forthcoming General Election which appears too have already conflicted with Fiona Woolf’s term as Mayor of London. As we witness the potential dismissal or resignation of a second Chair, we are still no nearer to having the terms of reference for the inquiry. Whilst Fiona Woolf is probably as capable of doing a good job as her predecessor would have been, one of the main qualifications needed to carry out this role is to hold the confidence of many of the victims of institutionalised child abuse in our nation. It is clearly disturbing that it took so long for Fiona Woolf to admit the nature of her connections with Leon Brittan, that there are now subsequent disclosures due, and that her first letter on the subject was drafted by civil servants in the Home Office, published 5 weeks after she was announced as Chair. There is of course a risk that some of the dinner parties at which she enjoyed the company of Lord and Lady Brittan, may have included other people with a history that will be seen to have ‘baggage’ in the near future. However her real blind spot seems to be her view that she is not a member of the establishment. This is not a matter of pride or even humility, it is a matter of what this term really means to many victims and those of us who were not victims but want this issue to be addressed by our society with so many forms of institutionalised power. In her own terms Fiona Woolf may not see herself as part of the establishment, it would be fascinating to find out how many of her peers would say the same about themselves or about Fiona Woolf. However from the perspective of my own world view, she is exactly that, and others clearly have similar thoughts.
It seems inevitable that whoever ultimately Chairs the inquiry will be part of the establishment to some extent or other. That is something that the person should understand and their grasp of that should be evident in the way they carry out their work as Chair of the inquiry, it should not be seen as a matter of disqualification in itself. However the inquiry Chair needs to be someone who carries the confidence of the victims of these crimes, some of the groups of victims need to be consulted before the next appointment, not afterwards. We cannot rely solely on the judgement of our Prime Minister or his Home Secretary and her officials in the Home Office, there needs to be a process that we can all have confidence in. The person needs to also be someone who can command respect amongst the members of the committee, and indeed some of them could be part of a process to select a new Chair, assuming that Fiona Woolf resigns. It seems that the whole inquiry will succeed or fail in its objectives based on the way in which the Chair is chosen, although the stakes are enormous, the mechanism is something that outside Central Government is not without precedent.