THE sexual abuse of children in the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches are to be investigated in the first phase of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, its chairwoman, Justice Lowell Goddard, confirmed last Friday.
Twelve investigations will begin immediately, Justice Goddard said, as she launched the Public Hearings Project. Also in the first tranche of institutions to be investigated are Lambeth, Nottinghamshire, and Rochdale councils. She will also look at “allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster”, and the reparations available to victims and survivors of abuse.
Most, if not all, of the investigations would culminate in public hearings, she said. Further investigations will be announced as the inquiry, expected to last five years, develops.
Justice Goddard welcomed the invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury to investigate the C of E as a matter of priority (News, 17 July).
The investigation will cover “the nature and extent of, and institutional responses to, child sexual abuse within the Church of England, the Church in Wales, and other Anglican churches operating in England and Wales”. It would consider the experience of Chichester, a diocese “beset by allegations of sexual abuse, and subject to numerous investigations, reviews and inquiries”, Justice Goddard said (News, 24 August 2012).
The case of a former Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball, jailed last month for a series of offences against teenage boys and young men (News, 9 October) would also be studied, including “whether there were inappropriate attempts by people of prominence to interfere in the criminal-justice process after he was first accused of child sexual offences”. Previous safeguarding reviews by Anglican churches, and existing child-protection policies, will also be scrutinised.
The task of running 12 investigations in parallel was ambitious, Justice Goddard said, and represented “an organisational challenge that is unprecedented in a public inquiry in the UK”. Some could take “several years” to conclude. The panel was “determined to succeed”.
Timetables for each investigation will be published early in the New Year, and preliminary hearings are expected to start in February.
The Church of England issued a statement on Friday welcoming the announcement, and highlighting that the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, spoke in the House of Lords in June last year to call on the Government to establish an independent public inquiry.
In his speech, Bishop Butler said: “I know it will take time, and will be costly to undertake, and I know that for both those reasons it will be argued against. However, I firmly believe that the true cost of child abuse, and the abuse of adults at risk is far higher than any of us have ever been prepared to acknowledge in terms of the mental, emotional, social, and physical health and well-being of very large numbers of our population.”
When it was first announced by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, in July last year, the inquiry was beset by problems. Two of the first intended chairs resigned, including Baroness Butler-Sloss, who conducted a review into safeguarding in the diocese of Chichester in 2010-11 (News, 11 July, 2014). Justice Goddard, a judge of the High Court of New Zealand, accepted the post in February this year.
Earlier this month, she launched the Truth Project in Liverpool. Its aim is to enable victims and survivors of child sexual abuse to share their experience during a private session with a member of the inquiry, or via a written statement.
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