A wide ranging independent inquiry into the handling of allegations of child sex abuse by the government and other public bodies in the 1980s and 1990s has been announced this week. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, said the investigation could be upgraded to a full public inquiry should the expert panel decide it to be necessary, as she addressed the House of Commons.
The inquiry is not expected to report prior to the general election in May 2015, but MPs will be kept updated as to its progress, the home secretary added. Furthermore Peter Wanless, chief executive of children’s charity NSPCC, is to head a review into the Home Office’s handling of historical child sex abuse.
Home Office Handling
Mr Wanless’ review, which will additionally cover how police and prosecutors handled any information handed to them, is expected to be complete within eight to 10 weeks, Mrs May said. She told MPs the panel will have access to all government documentation it requires and will be free to call witnesses “subject to constraints imposed by any criminal investigations”.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomed the investigations:
“Previously the Home Office had not done enough to respond but I welcome the further steps the home secretary has announced today.”
“She and I will agree that we need justice for victims, the truth about what happened and a stronger system of child protection for the future.”
“Our priority must be the prosecution of the people behind these disgusting crimes,” she said and pledged that “where there has been a failure to protect from children from abuse we will expose it and we will learn from it”.
Labour’s Simon Danzuck, who has been calling for an urgent inquiry after it emerged the Home Office could not locate 114 files containing allegations of historical child sex abuse, queried how the inquiry will engage with victims of abuse. Mrs May indicated this would be for the chairman and panel to decide as opposed to the government.
Official Secrets Act
Liberal Democrat Duncan Hames inquired as to whether former public servants giving evidence to the inquiry panel will be “released from any obligations they may have under gagging clauses in severance agreements, or for that matter the Official Secrets Act”. Mrs May told him she would have to consider in further detail the “legal issue around the Official Secrets Act”, but stressed:
“It is my intention that people should be able to speak openly in relation to the evidence that they give if they are called as witnesses or, indeed if they wish, written evidence to the inquiry panel.”