The secretive world in which child sexual abuse flourishes will be investigated by a newly-set up inquiry committee, whose comprehensive remit will extend to Westminster, the highest echelons of the Catholic and Anglican churches, the judiciary, the police and the secret services.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse was set up in July, but, on Friday, its chair, Justice Lowell Goddard, a senior New Zealand judge, set out its mandate and time-frame in clear terms.
The inquiry comes not a day too soon in a country where allegations of, and cases against, powerful individuals in the political, entertainment and religious world have emerged over the last several years. According to the Children’s Commissioner for England, around 400,000-450,000 children were sexually abused in England between 2012 and 2014. Many of them are victims of Internet-based organised networks.
Launching the Public Hearings Project (the other two arms of the inquiry are the Truth Project and the Research Project) in London” Justice Goddard said it would include 12 investigations that will start immediately and culminate in public hearings.
The investigation will build a picture, she said, of the extent of child abuse in five workstreams, namely, “failures by local authorities; failures in the areas of criminal justice and law enforcement; in education and religion; in national and private service organisations; and in relation to alleged abuse by persons of public prominence.”
The inquiry, it would appear, is proceeding on the basis of re-examining existing cases and allegations of child sexual abuse and the institutions in which they occurred.
The most anticipated and high-profile of the investigations will be of Westminster, about which there have long been allegations of powerful rings of child abusers acting together. Justice Rochdale has promised an “objective fact-finding inquiry into allegations of abuse by people of public prominence associated with Westminster.” It will focus on “high profile allegations of child sexual abuse involving current or former Members of Parliament, senior civil servants, government advisers, and members of the intelligence and security agencies”.
Other government offices will not be spared, including those that recruit people to work abroad, like the Armed Forces, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council.
Two separate investigations will look into allegations of child abuse under the watch of the local councils of Lambeth, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire; and a third of similar abuses in the Rochdale Borough Council, including the allegations against the late Liberal Party Member of Parliament from Rochdale, Cyril Smith.
The inquiry will investigate claims of children being abused by persons in the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church, the latter “a matter of national and international concern for many years,” Justice Goddard noted. Allegations of abuse in the English Benedictine Congregation, and the Diocese of Chichester will be probed. This will include the case of Peter Ball, convicted sex-offender who was Bishop of Lewes and subsequently of Gloucester. Custodial institutions for children and residential school will be separately investigated.
While some of the investigations will be complete in 18 months, the time-frame set for the whole inquiry report to be published is five years.