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Duty of care: public bodies in the dock

11 July 2014


WITHOUT a full public inquiry, the truth about institutional sex abuse might not be revealed, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, warned on Tuesday.

Bishop Butler, who chairs the Churches National Safeguarding Committee, was speaking after the announcement on Monday by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, of an independent inquiry into "whether public bodies - andother non-state institutions - have taken seriously their duty of careto protect children from sexual abuse".

More than a month ago, the Bishop said, the Archbishop of Canterbury had written to Mrs May calling for a full public inquiry.

"A full public inquiry is required, because under those terms people have to take oaths, and swear to tell the truth," he said on Tuesday. "My fear is that the whole story won't come out without that.

"We're absolutely clear that the Church of England and other Churches need to be involved in this inquiry, as we already know there are parts of our history that involve churchpeople having committed abuse.

"So we have to be investigated just like anybody else, and there will probably be some unpleasant and difficult stories to handle. I accept that's part of the reality.

"We think there is a real problem around institutional abuse; so schools, the civil service, the police, politicians, and the Church need to try to get to the bottom of why people can get into institutions and use those institutions as safe places to abuse.

"Victim survivors need justice, and they need their story to be heard; and, as a nation, we need to help them to move on."

The Stop Church Child Abuse (SCCA) alliance has campaigned for an inquiry since 2010. On Wednesday, Anne Lawrence, a barrister and spokesperson for the alliance, said: "Only a full public inquiry, which can compel evidence to be disclosed and witnesses to be placed under oath, will get to the truth of what happened in institutions in this country, including the church institutions."

It should hear from "victims and those who tried to get to the truth over decades", she said. It would need to last for two to three years, to "bring about the cultural changes needed in this country if we are ever to make good on our promise to protect children".

The inquiry announced by Mrs May will be conducted by a panel of experts in the law and child protection. Its non-statutory footing would mean that it could begin its work soon, she said; and, because it would initially focus on a review of documents rather than on inter-views with witnesses, it would be less likely to prejudice criminal investigations.

She emphasised, however, that,if the inquiry panel chairman should deem it to be necessary, then "the government is preparedto convert it into a full public inquiry."

On Tuesday it was announced that the inquiry panel would be led by Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former president of the family division of the High Court. In 2010 she was appointed by the diocese of Chichester to investigate its handling of allegations of sex abuse, and she identified significant failings in safeguarding procedures (News, 27 May 2011). In an addendum to her review, published in 2012, she sought to correct inaccur­acies, based on information given to her by the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Nicholas Reade, and the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn. "I very much regret that I ac­cepted the information I was given and did not make further inquiries," she wrote, adding that, had she been in possession of the new information, she would not have made any changes to her conclusions or recommendations (News, 9 March, 2012).

SCCA is campaigning for mandatory reporting of abuse by professionals. It is supported in this by the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), which on Monday urged Mrs May to introduce this requirement into law as a matter of urgency. It would be "an obvious and effective remedy against the scourge of child sex abuse which is currently stalking our land".

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