Abuse inquiry should cover whole UK, Home Affairs Committee says

Lowell Goddard Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Home Affairs Committee endorsed the appointment of the abuse inquiry's new chairwoman, New Zealand judge Justice Lowell Goddard

The government is being urged to extend the scope of the child sexual abuse inquiry to cover the whole of the UK - rather than just England and Wales.

The investigation should cover Scotland and Northern Ireland, including claims of abuse at Kincora Boys' Home in Belfast in the 1970s, a Home Affairs Committee report said.

The panel must seek to avoid "gaps" between the various inquiries, it said.

The Home Office said the report had been noted and was being considered.

The independent, panel-led inquiry was set up by Home Secretary Theresa May last year to consider whether public bodies and other institutions failed in their duty to protect children.

Separate historical abuse inquiries have been established in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where child protection is a devolved matter.

'Cover-up allegations'

The Home Affairs Committee report said the scope of the main inquiry should be extended, highlighting in particular the case of Kincora, where MI5 has been accused of covering up abuse.

Three senior care staff at the home were jailed in 1981 for abusing 11 boys.

It has been claimed that people of the "highest profile" were connected and that the security services were aware.

Members of the Northern Ireland assembly concluded last year that the claims could only be adequately investigated by a Westminster-led UK inquiry.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption The Kincora Boys' Home in Belfast was at the centre of a child abuse scandal, with allegations going back to 1960

And the latest report raised concerns that the powers of compulsion of the Northern Ireland panel did not extend to the UK government.

It said this "calls into doubt whether it will be able to deal effectively with allegations of the possible involvement of UK government agencies in the abuse".

The main inquiry must consult with the separate inquiries in Scotland and Northern Ireland "to avoid gaps between the areas covered by the various inquiries", it added.

The Scottish government says its inquiry will share information with other jurisdictions. It says the scope of the inquiry set up by the home secretary is a matter for the UK government.

UK historical child sexual abuse inquiries

Main independent inquiry: An expert-led, independent inquiry into whether public bodies, such as the police, NHS and BBC, failed in their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.

Historical Institutional Abuse (Northern Ireland): Set up to establish if there were systemic failings by institutions or the state in their duties towards children in their care between 1922-95. Due to report January 2017.

Scotland care inquiry: A statutory public inquiry into the historical abuse of children in care has been set up by the Scottish government following scandals involving child abuse at institutions including those run by the Roman Catholic church.

List of inquiries established

The new head of the inquiry, Justice Lowell Goddard, told the Home Affairs Select Committee she was willing to discuss the inclusion of Northern Ireland in the inquiry.

Appearing before the committee on Wednesday, she said she would raise it with the Home Secretary Theresa May if she felt it was appropriate.

The committee report also endorsed Justice Goddard's appointment to the role.

'Outstanding credentials'

The New Zealand judge is the third person to be appointed to chair the inquiry. Two previous chairwomen, Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf, resigned amid concerns over their links with the establishment.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: "We were impressed by the outstanding credentials of Justice Goddard, and the open and transparent way in which she gave evidence to the Committee.

"We believe she has the necessary skills and dedication to carry out this complex task effectively."

He said Justice Goddard would be standing down from the High Court of New Zealand and moving to the UK to take on the role full-time in early April.

The committee also recommended:

  • The establishment of an official forum for victims of child sex abuse, with strong links to the inquiry's main panel
  • That the inquiry consider hiring specialist staff to provide support to abuse victims giving evidence
  • That the Home Office conduct a new search of all government material to establish that no relevant documents have been overlooked
  • That the inquiry panel produce an interim report as soon as possible, and further reports "as frequently as it sees fit"
  • That Justice Goddard should play a "full role" in the selection of panel members, as well as having a free hand over the appointment of the inquiry counsel and secretariat

The committee also welcomed Theresa May's announcement that she was open to allowing the inquiry to investigate abuse allegations going back to before 1970.

It recommended that Justice Goddard should look at the Leveson inquiry and the Hillsborough inquiry as examples of "well-run, focused, and victim-centred inquiries".

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