In early July 2014 Theresa May, the Home Secretary for the coalition announced that she was going to establish a National inquiry into Childhood Sexual Exploitation. After many false starts a new Chair, Lowell Goddard was appointed at the beginning of February 2015. A new panel for the inquiry was also chosen and the first statement from Justice Goddard states:
“The best way to ensure that the Inquiry can conduct its work effectively and efficiently is by the appointment of a small and committed working panel. Under my direction, the panel members will take an active leadership role in supervising and shaping defined areas of the Inquiry’s investigative work. The appointments of Dru Sharpling, Professor Malcolm Evans, Ivor Frank and Alexis Jay to the Inquiry panel have ensured there is a panel membership with proven leadership skills and a wealth of professional experience in the objective and focused analysis and evaluation of complex evidential material. To support the panel in its work I will, over the coming months, also appoint a number of professional advisers to provide specialist expertise to the Inquiry in relation to particular institutional sectors and importantly in the area of academic research and methodology.”
The Judge argued that rather than including the voices of 1-2 abuse victims and survivors on the panel, that it would be better to include 8 members of a Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel (VSCP) which will be closely involved in the work of the Inquiry and will provide advice and guidance to herself and the panel as the Inquiry proceeds. The invitation for nominations was announced on 9th April and the deadline for applications was set as the 1st May and on the 15th May it was announced that the decision regarding the VSCP would not be made until June.
Despite this process which is clearly progressing and understandably takes time, there is no indication if the apparent lack of meetings of the inquiry panel is an intentional decision to wait until the Victims Consultative Panel is established or if there is some other problem that has not been announced. Assuming that the make-up of the victims panel is announced on 1st June, it seems unlikely that they will be in a position to meet much before early July. This means that there will have been no measurable progress in the year since the inquiry was first announced. No one could have expected it to have begun work in July 2014 but the lack of any dates for the inquiry panel meetings, let alone minutes of meetings in the last 10 weeks is not very inspiring. It is not evidence of the active leadership which Judge Goddard referred to in her statement of 12th March. It is vital that we don’t try to measure the progress of this inquiry in days or weeks, however it is vital that we do not allow its progress to be measured in years or even decades. For many of the survivors and victims, far too many of those have already passed and the ‘establishment’ has done nothing to show its concern for their pain, and indeed in many cases has sought to deepen it. It is noticeable that with all of the announcements from the new Government, that nothing has been said regarding the Inquiry by either Theresa May or her boss.