Saturday, 1 November 2014

After Woolf

Fiona Woolf has done the right thing in resigning as chair of the inquiry into historical child sexual abuse.

For me she demonstrated a sad naivety when she uttered the phrase ‘victim community’ which I think I heard her use twice. I think the inappropriate use of that phrase betrayed a significant lack of understanding of child sexual abuse and the isolation and loneliness of many of its survivors.

The issue is now one of who should replace her. The need to recruit somebody who can be seen to have no unacceptable connections with ‘the establishment’ means that the net needs to be cast widely. But what do we mean by ‘the establishment’, other than regular attendees at dinner parties in some of London’s more affluent residential districts?

The extent of the problem is only fully appreciated when one starts to think about the kinds of groups and organisations that the inquiry will have to scrutinise: the police, social services, the civil service, former government ministers, the BBC, the NHS, local government, the Crown Prosecution Service, charities. That’s just a few to be thinking about and there are probably a lot more.

My view is that the allegations concerning historical child sexual abuse are so pervasive that it is unlikely that somebody with the necessary knowledge, experience, skills and stature could be found who did not have significant links to one or more of these institutions or groups.

That’s why I think the Home Secretary should look abroad for a suitable candidate. I’m not going to mention any names, but my own preference would be for an expert in child sexual abuse rather than a lawyer – somebody who has demonstrated a consistent understanding of the perspectives of victims and a commitment to their needs, welfare and rights.