UK Politics

Chuka Umunna: Child abuse inquiry should be restructured

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Media captionChuka Umunna: Inquiry must be restructured

The inquiry into child abuse should be restructured to regain the confidence of survivors, an MP has said.

The Labour MP Chuka Umunna told BBC Newsnight each of the 13 strands that make up the overall inquiry should have their own dedicated head as a way of heading off concerns that the new overall chair of the inquiry has a background in social work, an industry many survivors say failed them.

Some of those survivors have criticised the recent appointment of Professor Alexis Jay. She was appointed as chair following the departure in August of her predecessor Judge Lowell Goddard.

Abuse of children in care in the London borough of Lambeth, which includes Mr Umunna's constituency, is one of the inquiry strands.

Mr Umunna, who also serves on the Home Affairs Select Committee and is standing to replace Keith Vaz as chair of the committee, told BBC Newsnight: "I think there is a way of moving forward where you have Professor Jay at the top of a federal like structure, encompassing people heading each of the different 13 investigations. I think that way perhaps we can move forward in a way that the survivors will feel comfortable with."

Mr Umunna said it was Professor Jay's background as opposed to anything she personally had done that was the problem: "The issue with Professor Jay is not personal to her. She is widely respected in her profession and beyond but it is more to do with the profession generally which of course let down a huge number of people and helped lead to an environment in which they were treated in the most appalling and abominable way that one can imagine."

Under Mr Umunna's plan Professor Jay would remain as head of the overall inquiry.

Professor Jay received widespread praise for her 2014 report into child protection failures in Rotherham.

Last week the leaders of what is believed to the largest group representing survivors of abuse said he was recommending to his members that the group no longer cooperate with the independent inquiry.

Raymond Stevenson, from the Shirley Oaks Survivors Group, cited the appointment of Professor Jay as a reason for him wanting his group to relinquish their role as core participants in the inquiry.

Mr Umunna told the BBC the inquiry had to get survivors on side. He said: "I don't see how the inquiry is going to be able to report without commanding the support and the confidence of the survivors concerned and here you have by far the biggest survivors group of over 600 individuals saying that they don't currently have confidence in the inquiry.

"Now that is a really big, big problem. It can't be swept under the carpet and ignored. It's been far too much sweeping under the carpet over the decades as it is. I think it needs to be dealt with."

Mr Stevenson told BBC Newsnight last week: "The new chair has spent 30 years in the social services department. That [someone other than her] would have been another condition for us [staying] because we are suggesting the social services department also being part."

Following Professor Jay's appointment last month Andi Lavery from the White Flowers Alba survivors group said: "She's a social worker, when one of the key aspects of this inquiry is looking at the abject failure of the social work profession."

Professor Jay, who stepped up to be chair of the inquiry after previously sitting on its four person panel, won widespread respect for her 2014 report into child abuse in Rotherham.

She is the inquiry's fourth chair since it was established just over two years ago.

In a submission to the Home Affairs select committee last week Judge Goddard suggested the inquiry should be restructured so it focuses on the present and future rather than the past.

But Home Secretary Amber Rudd insisted the focus on the past should remain. She told MPs: "Understanding what happened is so important to getting right what we think is going to help now and in the future."

Mr Umunna said the focus on the past must continue and also called for Judge Goddard to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee to answer questions on the written evidence she submitted to MPs last week.

A spokesman for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse said: 'The chair and panel will hear evidence presented at the inquiry's public hearings in accordance with the provisions of the Inquiry Act 2005 and Inquiry rules 2006, with the aim of achieving fairness and consistency throughout.

"The chair and the panel were selected because of the broad range of skills and experience they bring to the inquiry and their work in the area of child sexual abuse and institutional failure."