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How does the inquiry into historical child sexual abuse work?

Prof Alexis Jay Image copyright IICSA
Image caption Inquiry chairwoman, Prof Alexis Jay, led the probe into child abuse in Rotherham

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in England and Wales is investigating claims against local authorities, religious organisations, the armed forces and public and private institutions - as well as people in the public eye.

But it has been dogged with controversy since being announced in July 2014, with chairwomen coming and going, lawyers quitting their posts and victims' groups losing faith in the process.

Why was the inquiry set up?

Following the death of BBC presenter Jimmy Savile in 2011, hundreds of people came forward to say he had abused them as children. The spotlight has also fallen on sexual assaults carried out in schools, children's homes and at NHS sites.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jimmy Savile died in 2011

At the same time, there have been claims of past failures by police and prosecutors to properly investigate allegations.

The inquiry was announced by the then Home Secretary Theresa May to "expose those failures and learn the lessons" from the past.

How does the inquiry work?

When it was announced, the inquiry was expected to take about five years to complete. When finished, it will publish a report of recommendations.

The inquiry is divided into public hearings into specific areas of concern, with witnesses giving evidence under oath; research into institutional failures in child protection, and the so-called Truth Project in which victims will share their experiences with the inquiry either in private interviews or written form.

The inquiry will not seek to determine civil or criminal liability of individuals or organisations but may reach "findings of fact" in relation to this.

Allegations of child abuse received by the inquiry will be referred to police and material related to Scotland, Northern Ireland or British Overseas Territories will be passed on to the authorities there.

A separate inquiry looking at the abuse of children in care in Scotland has been set up by the Scottish Government.

Who is carrying out the inquiry?

The inquiry is being led by Prof Alexis Jay, a former director of social services who headed the inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

She is being assisted by a panel of advisers: law professor and human rights expert Malcolm Evans; child protection barrister Ivor Frank; and lawyer Drusilla Sharpling, a former Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, who has worked as an inspector of constabulary since 2009.

A separate panel will represent victims and survivors.

Brian Altman QC is lead counsel to the inquiry.

What is the IICSA investigating?

The inquiry's public hearings consist of 13 separate investigations, which are expected to last until 2020.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Part of the inquiry will focus on the late Lord Janner

The inquiry is investigating:

  • the cases of British children in care who were sent to parts of the Empire including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and what was Southern Rhodesia between 1920 and the 1970s
  • alleged failings at Lambeth and Nottinghamshire councils; Cambridge House Boys' Hostel, Knowl View School and other institutions arranged by Rochdale Borough Council; the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches; custodial institutions, residential schools, and the support services and legal remedies available to victims and survivors
  • "areas of contemporary concern" including the internet and organised abuse networks
  • allegations of child sexual abuse by "people of public prominence associated with Westminster" and claims of cover-ups
  • allegations against the late Lord Janner, the former Labour peer who in 2015 was ruled unfit to stand trial on child sexual abuse charges

The evidence given at the public hearings is expected to cover a number of other cases that have attracted headlines in recent years, including late MP Cyril Smith and claims of sexual abuse at care homes in north Wales.

What have we learned so far?

Three of the investigations are now complete, along with a case study of abuse in Ampleforth and Downside Roman Catholic schools.

They found:

An interim report has also been published, which concluded that common responses to child abuse "deflected responsibility away from perpetrators and institutions".

Image copyright ABC
Image caption John Glynn is among the victims of the UK's child migrant policy

What's happening next?

The inquiry has begun investigating claims that political parties in Westminster "turned a blind eye" to allegations of abuse.

Brian Altman QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, said this phase would examine whether there were any attempted cover-ups.

But some of the most serious allegations made in the past are not being considered, after they were reviewed by a former senior judge in 2016, who concluded they were false.

Public hearings on the Westminster investigation are due to finish in mid-March.

Why has the inquiry been controversial?

The main bone of contention has been the turbulent history in the inquiry's first years surrounding who is in charge.

The first chairwoman of the inquiry appointed in July 2014 was Baroness Butler-Sloss. However, she resigned just one week later after concerns arose around her links to the establishment - namely her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s.

In September 2014, Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf was named the new head, but after disclosing she had been to five dinners with the late Lord Brittan - one of the people facing accusations at the time, which have since been dropped - she quit by the end of October.

In February 2015, Justice Lowell Goddard, a serving judge of the High Court of New Zealand, took over the reins and was in charge as inquiry began hearing directly from victims and survivors. But by August 2016, she had resigned her post as well due to "compounding difficulties" and her family life.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Shane Donnelly and Pauline Blackwood are members of the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, which pulled out of the inquiry

A number of lawyers have also resigned or been removed from the process.

In November 2016, the largest of the victims' groups involved in the inquiry, the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, pulled out and said it had lost confidence in the inquiry's leadership.

A legal case relating to allegations of abuse relating to Lord Janner has been dropped. The case had previously caused hearings to be delayed because of an "overlap" with the criminal investigation. His family have now met with inquiry staff after initially opposing the inclusion of the former politician.

How much is this all costing?

The IICSA has a budget of £17.9m in its first year, funded by the Home Office, with staff accounting for 41%.

Prof Jay is to be paid £185,000 - almost half her predecessor's salary - while panel members will each receive £565 a day.

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