Panel members angrily accuse home secretary of ignoring majority of abuse survivors
By Mark Watts | 20 December 2014
She wrote to each member of the panel at the end of last week to say that she is considering turning it into a statutory inquiry, or setting up a fresh statutory inquiry or a Royal Commission.
But her move has prompted fury among panel members. They are urging May to convert the inquiry to statutory status and keep the current panel.
In May’s letter, a copy of which was passed to Exaro, she said that a statutory inquiry may have a panel, but even then it would be appointed afresh.
Existing members of the panel can apply for positions on any new one, she adds.
The letter followed a meeting between May and panel members on Monday.
She wrote: “As I said on Monday, I am currently considering these three options and I appreciate this has implications for the members of the panel.”
If she sets up a statutory inquiry or royal commission, said May, “the panel would have to be dissolved in its current form.”
“I should like to make clear that I appointed each and every one of you for your experience, your professionalism and your undoubted commitment.
“I know that it has not been easy, that you are working in an incredibly sensitive and difficult subject area and that some of you have faced significant personal criticism.” May claims that she was responding to concerns about the panel raised with her by abuse survivors.
However, panel members accuse May of listening to a vocal minority set against the inquiry instead of the majority of abuse survivors.
Exaro has obtained a copy of a letter in reply to May by one panel member, Sharon Evans, chief executive of Dot Com Children’s Foundation, which promotes child safeguarding, and herself an abuse survivor.
Exaro has reproduced much of the damning letter from Evans below:
“I, like other panel members, feel devastated at the prospect of the independent inquiry being halted as it has been made clear to us ‘off the record’ that the panel will be stood down in the New Year.”
“As a person who suffered sexual abuse between the ages of three and seven, it was important that the experiences of victims and survivors were integral to the inquiry.
“It was agreed by the panel that these experiences would form our line of questioning of institutions and ‘the experiences of victims and survivors would be at the heart of the inquiry’.
She referred to the other panel member who is an abuse survivor, writing: “Graham Wilmer and myself presented our personal experiences to the panel to enable greater understanding from a survivor’s perspective.
“This has been an important element of our ability to reach out to survivors and to listen with empathy and understanding to the stories being told.”
She said that advisers to the secretariat stressed that the panel would continue for the duration of the inquiry, despite the successive departures of two chairwomen, “and this was a message we must give to victims and survivors at ‘listening’ meetings that were planned across the country.”
“The meetings were emotionally charged and issues around trust and control by the Home Office were frequently mentioned.”
She continued: “During four meetings, we met with more than 70 representatives of victims and survivors and individuals who had been abused. The feedback was recorded by the secretariat. Ninety-nine per cent of those we met agreed to support and be champions of the independent panel.
“There has been however a small number of individuals and survivor groups engaging in personal attacks on panel members through social media and the Press.
“In the face of hostility by certain individuals, my concern is that the independent panel has been controlled to such a degree that it was unable to rebut or refute allegations. It was made very clear that there would be no Press interviews or information given out except by the press officer to the inquiry.”
“On December 15, with virtually no notice, panel members were summoned to meet you at the Home Office. During the pre-briefing by your staff, even though there is no legal reason, we were informed that it was likely that the panel would be stood down and the inquiry halted, so that in accordance with the wishes of survivors you had met, you could turn the inquiry into a statutory inquiry or Royal Commission.
“My second concern is that halting the inquiry at this point would send a very negative message to so many people we have already met and who we have promised they can have confidence in us to do the right thing.
“My final concern is that I feel threatened about writing to you as it was made clear to me that if I wrote a letter to you that your special advisers would ‘brief against me’ to discredit me and my charitable work in helping to safeguard children from sexual abuse and violence. It is shocking to me that people are employed to attack and discredit anyone who speaks against you.”
“I feel it is not a good choice to let panel members stand down because of the influences of a small group of people. They are not the voice of the majority of survivors, and I feel that I need to make you aware of this.
“If there is to be any chance of independence, the current panel, which has won the faith and confidence of victims and survivors at listening meetings, should stay and the public should be made fully aware of the professional experience that led to their being appointed to the panel.
“I also believe that the independent inquiry should be overseen by a cross-party group of MPs who could ensure the independence of the panel from the Home Office.
“During listening meetings, it has been made clear to me that many women who have been abused and exploited feel their voice is not being heard and some have not spoken out in 30 years. However they have told me that I have given them the courage to speak out. It is important women feel safe to speak out.
“During our meeting in Bristol, I was also informed by three men who did not know each other and all who described themselves as having no political axe to grind, that a senior politician has been having sex with young boys and his marriage is a sham. This has been reported by me to the secretariat and police prior to the news that we may need to step down.
“During our panel meetings, it also emerged that the police still do not currently have enough resource to deal with the large numbers of reports coming forward and the projected number this could grow to.
“I hope that this letter reaches you on a level of being supportive and making you truly aware of the issues. I appreciate that there are enormous demands upon you which I cannot imagine but this inquiry affects millions of people’s lives across generations and we must get it right.”
The devastating news for the inquiry panel comes a week after Exaro revealed how several former police officers privately discussed on an online forum that there had been a cover-up for VIP paedophiles.
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