The Truth Shall Make You
KNAVES OR FOOLS ? THE HOME OFFICE AND IICSA
The Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse is under sustained attack.
It is under attack from outside – by MPs and (in particular) the press; and from the inside, by a steady stream of anonymous leaks emanating apparently from some of its senior staff.
There is a pattern to these attacks, and – followed closely – it points to a fundamental problem at the heart of the Inquiry. That problem is the Home Office.
On September 5, the former Inquiry chair, Dame Lowell Goddard, sent a nine-page letter to the Home Affairs Committee. In it she attempted to explain the issues which led her to resign from her post. I am posting it below.
Godard letter to HA Committee
Little or no attention has been paid to that letter: instead, the focus has been on allegations, leaked by someone from within the Inquiry leaked to The Times, that Goddard made racist comments and was abusive to Inquiry staff. No actual evidence has been adduced of this alleged misconduct – merely the fact that the Inquiry secretary John O’Brien had reported them to the Home Office – and Goddard has vehemently denied the allegations, calling them “falsities”, “malicious” and part of “a vicious campaign”.
True or not, they have – once again, led to calls for the Inquiry to be closed down.
The Home Office is central to this fiasco. Ostensibly, it has no involvement in the Inquiry, other than being the department responsible for paying for it. As Home Secretary Amber Rudd told the House of Commons yesterday:
“It is an independent body, established under the Inquiries Act 2005. The Home Office is the sponsor Department, and I am responsible for the terms of reference, appointing the chair and panel members, and providing funding … The appointment of staff and the day-to-day running are matters for the chair.”
The reality is somewhat different. More than 30 members of the Inquiry secretariat are Home Office staff. John O’Brien, the Inquiry secretary whose passing on of unsourced allegations about Goddard was leaked to the Times, is the Home Office’s “Director of Safeguarding”. His “SCS2” staff grade has an annual salary of up to £162,500.
Why does this matter ? Is it not both reasonable and sensible for the Home Office to second its staff to an Inquiry under its financial control ?
There are two reasons why the answer has to be ‘no’.
The first is that the Home Office is itself the subject of serious allegations involving organised paedophilia and child sexual abuse. In August I posted on this blog the written evidence I submitted to IICSA which detailed the failures of the Home Office and the police to act on very clear evidence of paedophile activity in the 1980s and 1990s. At least part of that activity – an office of the Paedophile Information Exchange – was on Home Office premises.
I am re-posting below my IICSA submission. It sets out evidence which shows that the Home Office has serious questions to answer about its actions, its policy decisions, its record-keeping and its alleged funding relationship to PIE. All of these should fall squarely within the Inquiry’s remit, and should clearly disqualify the Home Office from playing any part in the Inquiry’s operation.
Submission to the IICSA - redacted version
Goddard herself set out the second reason. Her letter to the Home Affairs Committee highlighted the problem which Home Office involvement has caused IICSA. She wrote:
“The administrative arrangements made by the Home Office as the inquiry’s sponsor meant that in the recruitment of staff priority was given to civil servants and any non-civil service staff had to become civil servants unless they were employed on contract through the Solicitor to the Inquiry. In practical terms this meant that the skills and qualifications of many recruits did not fit the tasks which they were called upon to perform, as none of the secretariat or senior management team had previous experience of running an inquiry of this nature.
Therefore they did not fully understand or appreciate its organisational and operational needs. Their approach has been bureaucratic and the Inquiry’s progress has been impeded by a lack of adequate systems and personnel, leading to critical delays. I felt as Chair handicapped by not being given a free hand to recruit staff of the type that I judged to be essential.”
Since that letter, the Home Office has done nothing to address this fundamental flaw. Goddard, however, has been subjected to an unpleasant campaign of character assassination. She, rather than the department which appointed and then allegedly obstructed her, has been portrayed as the problem. She has also been criticised for not publicly explaining her abrupt departure from the Inquiry (notwithstanding her detailed letter to the Home Affairs Committee). But is she contractually allowed to do so ?
Goddard’s resignation was formally enacted in a severance agreement. Much press outrage has been expended on the pay off this allegedly gave her. Severance agreements – particularly of this size and pubic importance – usually come with a non-disclosure, or “gagging” clause which prevents either party from speaking publicly about it. Yesterday I asked the Home Office whether it had negotiated the severance agreement, and if so whether this included a non-disclosure clause. Its spokesperson, Richard Mellor, referred me to IICSA.
“This question is one for IICSA. I’m told it will be able to answer”.
The IICSA, however, refuses to answer either of those questions. Its chief spokesperson, Debbie Kirby, said:
“As with any organisation, all HR issues are confidential and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment. This should not be taken as confirmation or denial of any questions, simply that all employees have a right to expect confidentiality in relation to all HR matters.”
Ms. Kirby’s LinkedIn profile shows that amongst her previous posts were stints at the National Crime Agency (proprietor: the Home Office) and the Ministry of Justice. I asked her how the simple question of which organisation – IICSA or the Home Office – negotiated Goddard’s severance deal could possibly be construed as an encroachment on anyone’s confidentiality. She refused to explain or expand on her previous statement.
Is this incompetence or something less benign ? Is it wilful obstruction, or does it form part of the pattern of Home Office mismanagement which has blighted the Inquiry ? Either way, Goddard’s letter spelled out the problems caused by the failure of Kirby’s department to operate effectively.
“Another difficulty is that the huge amount of hard work the Inquiry has been putting in over its first 16 months has not been sufficiently visible or communicated widely enough. During my tenure the communications capacity of the Inquiry was never adequate for the formidable and important function of interacting with the public and I suggest that capacity in that regard needs to be radically strengthened for the future.”
Evidently that lesson has not been learned. Until it is – and above all until the Home Office removes itself from any involvement – the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will lurch from crisis to crisis.