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Sex-abuse inquiry is too big

12 August 2016

IT ALWAYS seemed a bit strange to me that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse appointed a judge from New Zealand, Dame Lowell Goddard, to chair its inves­tiga­tions, after her two predecessors had stepped down. She was, of course, appointed precisely because she was an outsider.

In 2014, there was an extraord­inary level of speculation about the scale of child abuse, especially within “the Establishment”. Lady Butler-Schloss and Dame Fiona Woolf were both pressured to resign be­­cause they were thought to have been tainted by their links to Establish­ment insiders. And yet the outside candidate failed to deliver, not least because she was an out­sider, strug­gling to manage local law, and un­­able to commit the time expected.

This is all something of a disaster, not least for the victims’ groups. In the event, some of the spec­ula­tion that had stirred up criticism of the first two appointed chair­women has turned out to be mis­placed.

There is darker issue in all this. We are all, in some way or another, tainted by the nightmare of historic sex-abuse. We want to know what really happened, and to whom, and where to assign blame. We all fear that the allegations that are actually proved represent merely the tip of the iceberg. And, because we are driven by fear and emotion, what we have set up is an inquiry that has an almost impossible remit, is unlikely to be able to complete its work for years, and will cost millions.

On top of that, we demand a “pure” judge, someone who is not only untainted by any unsavoury association, but also has the capacity to represent public empathy and support for those whose lives have been scarred. It is a real question whether there is anyone capable of fitting this brief.

In my mind, it echoes the question asked in heaven about who is worthy to open the scrolls, the answer being only the Lamb who was slain. The logic being pressed by some is that victims’ groups can be satisfied only by a chairman or -woman who is also a victim, who uniquely understands the suffering that they have been through. At this point, the analogy from Revelation is unhelpful. The Lamb who was slain was the victim of victims, but he also brought the surprising judgement of forgiveness. As the innocent judge, he did not condemn his oppressors, but set them free.

In this world, however, justice is not perfect. However grave our fears, however genuine our horror, we are investigating particular sordid crimes, not seeking cosmic atone­ment. The scope of the inquiry is too big, and the expectations are unrealisable. What we need now is competence and a realistic, but not endless, time­table, to give some victims at least the chance of some type of closure.

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