MPs have questioned the leadership of the beleaguered national inquiry into child sexual abuse after one of the country’s largest victims’ groups announced it was withdrawing from what it described as “an “unpalatable circus”.
The Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (Sosa) yesterday delivered a blistering critique of the troubled investigation - describing it as a “stage-managed event” which has “lurched from crisis to crisis”.
And there were calls for another change at the top of the inquiry, which is already on its fourth chairwoman, former social worker Professor Alexis Jay, the author of the 2014 report in Rotherham sex abuse.
Sosa represents victims affected by abuse at children’s homes run by Lambeth Council in south London.
In a highly critical statement, it said: “Our decision to pull out of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) should have come with regret but we are sad to say the only emotion we feel is relief.
“Now our members do not have to relive their worst nightmares in this stage-managed event which has now been contrived in such a way that it enables the guilty to wash their dirty hands, whilst the Establishment pats itself on the back.”
This inquiry needs is clear, confident leadership and direction from the Home Secretary Amber Rudd. She is sadly lacking in both.Sarah Champion MP
The group called on panel members to resign “for the sake of all those children who were abused historically”.
It said it feared Professor Jay was “an uninspiring leader” and it does not believe she is the right person to uncover the truth behind allegations of historical abuse.
The association concluded that the inquiry is an “opportunity lost” which “will leave a pigment of shame on the Government’s hands”.
Sosa chairman Raymond Stevenson said members voted on Saturday that they no longer wanted to be part of the inquiry.
“The inquiry needs to sort itself out. They need to get rid of Alexis Jay, who’s been parachuted in by the Home Office. She’s not the right person,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
Labour MP Chuka Umunna said he did not have confidence in Prof Jay as chair of the inquiry and wanted to see a judge of High Court level or above appointed in her place. “Can Prof Jay bring the heft and forensic capacity of a judge to this inquiry, which is what is needed? I’m not confident that she can,” he said.
Fellow Labour MP Sarah Champion, who represents Rotherham, said: “This inquiry needs is clear, confident leadership and direction from the Home Secretary Amber Rudd. She is sadly lacking in both.
“Theresa May seemed committed to the aims of the inquiry while she served as Home Secretary but since Amber Rudd took over, the inquiry has lurched from one disaster to the next.
“This inquiry is vital in the fight for justice for the thousands of survivors of child sexual abuse around the UK. It is imperative that its work is allowed to continue with the full commitment and backing of the Government, which right now it does not seem to be getting.
“Victims and survivors are right to feel frustrated and let down. Amber Rudd needs to recognise her failings so far and deliver much needed justice.”
Peter Saunders, founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, who sits on the inquiry’s victims advisory panel, told Today: “Shirley Oaks is one group. Napac as a charity hears every year from many, many thousands - in fact probably more than 100,000 people have been in touch with Napac since our support line was launched.
“So let’s not be distracted by just one group.”
An inquiry spokesman said: “We are sorry to hear that Shirley Oaks Survivors Association have decided to withdraw from the investigation into children in the care of Lambeth Council.
“Our investigation will continue and will examine the scale and nature of the abuse that may have taken place under the care of Lambeth Council with pace, confidence and clarity.”
The inquiry, which was first established in 2014, has been beset by problems. Earlier this week it emerged that another senior lawyer at the probe had resigned.
Described as the most ambitious public inquiry ever launched in England and Wales, it is running several investigative strands spanning decades.