Thursday, 6 October 2016

An Unwieldy Public Inquiry

Theresa May Bounced Into Folly of Overarching Probe

by Brian Bamford

IN April 2014, I received a message on my mobile phone from the journalist Peter Hinchcliffe from ROCHDALE ONLINE tipping me of about a press conference at Rochdale Town Hall called by Colin Lambert the then Labour leader of Rochdale Council.  At that conference Councillor Lambert changed the terms of reference of an inquiry he had previously set-up to investigate historic child abuse in Rochdale at Knowl View residential school up in Bamford village.  Following the publication in March that year, of a book by the local Labour MP Simon Danczuk, entitled 'Smile For The Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith', claiming to expose child abuse in Rochdale and beyond, Councillor Lambert then felt he had to respond and at that press conference he was supported by the then Greater Manchester Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy.
But if Colin Lambert felt under pressure at that time to act on child abuse in Rochdale, the then Home Secretary Theresa May similarly responded by setting-up a national public inquiry on historic child abuse which ultimately swallowed-up the new Rochdale investigation led by Neil Garnham QC .  So began the creation of a monstrous over-arching national inquiry with 'eyes bigger than its belly' fanned to fever-pitch by ambitious politicians like the MP, Simon Danczuk, and  an assortment of hungry journalists.

The ultimate result of this all consuming national investigation has been institutional indigestion and administrative flatulence. This is obvious to most observers, though writers on this Northern Voices' Blog have been giving warnings about this for months on end.

Last Saturday, an editorial in the Financial Times (FT) announced:

'Confidence in the inquiry is so low that some alleged victims claim it it was set up to fail.'

We on Northern Voices, together with John Walker the former editor of the 'Rochdale Alternative Paper' (which had outed Cyril Smith in May 1979), in the Autumn of 2011 supplied much of the evidence of child abuse at Cambridge House that triggered this whole issue, and was used by Simon Danczuk and his aide Matthew Baker in the production of their book*. 

The FT editor last Saturday wrote:

'For a public inquiry to merit the time and money required, it must have something concrete about which to inquire.  It must be able to obtain evidence on which it can reasonably get at the facts.  And it must have a remit that it can plausibly complete within a reasonable period of time.'

The 'Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse', set up by Theresa May, did not meet these requirements.  It is too unwieldy and extensive,  It will have to depend on remembered testimony from people with ageing memories. 

The now Prime Minister, Theresa May as Home Secretary, probably acted with the best of intentions when under pressure of the Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith revelations, she set up the inquiry two years ago.  In the end the inquiry now involves probes into 13 public bodies, and is expected to accomplish in a few years what the police couldn't do over decades.  It also aims to do a forensic study into how children can best be protected in future.

Perhaps, in the light of all this, we should not be surprised given all this that its development has been painfully slow or that the casualties and fall-out of chairs and other legal representatives have left the child abuse inquiry looking like a farce.

The first chair of the child abuse inquiry, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, resigned amid questions about the role of her brother who had served as attorney-general during the 1980s.  The second chair was driven out following a barrage of criticism about her “establishment links”.  The third resigned, and the forth, an experienced social worker, is already under attack.

Last weekend the editor of the FT points to what might be the root of the problem:

'This shows the folly of allowing those who are party to an inquiry to drive the process.  There is a difference between heeding their views and surrendering to the loudest voices...'

It seems that it is vital to get the right terms of reference for these kind of inquiries.  While the inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland took 12 years it only had to cover the events of one day, and it took 12 years to complete.  This current Historic Child Abuse Inquiry is so open-ended it is likely to surpass that, and in two-years it has already cost £20 million and it hasn't heard one hour of testimony yet. 
* Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith Hardcover – 16 Apr 2014 by Simon Danczuk  (Author) and Matthew Baker (author)› 
Neil Garnham QC

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