25 Nov 2016

Goddard's refusal to talk slammed as 'shameful'

12:08 pm on 25 November 2016

British MPs say Dame Lowell Goddard's refusal to give oral evidence about her sudden resignation from a UK inquiry into child sexual abuse is 'shameful".

Dame Lowell Goddard

Dame Lowell Goddard Photo: AFP

Dame Lowell - a former New Zealand High court judge - resigned from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in August, becoming the third chairwoman to quit.

She refused to appear before British MPs to answer questions about her time in charge of the inquiry, or her resignation in August, where she became the third chairwoman to quit.

She said for her to be summoned would compromise the inquiry's "independence and integrity" and has hit out at "malicious, defamatory attacks" from the British media.

The heads of the inquiry into child sexual abuse have been criticised today by British MPs.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the select committee, said the inquiry heads needed to sort out its problems fast and be less defensive about what had gone wrong.

She said it was "shameful" that Dame Lowell - the previous chair - was refusing to give oral evidence about what happened under her leadership.

The Home Affairs Select Committee wants to question Dame Lowell over claims by senior members of her staff that she was challenging to work with and that a mediator had to be called in to communicate with her.

But in an earlier letter to the committee, she said lawyers had advised her not to appear, as allegations against her could be repeated under the protection of parliamentary privilege.

Assault claim handled badly - MPs

The heads of the inquiry have also been criticised by MPs today for a "wholly inadequate" response to an internal allegation of sexual assault.

The home affairs select committee said, given the inquiry's task, it should have treated the issue with "rigour".

A woman on the inquiry team alleged she was groped in a lift at its offices.

Inquiry chair Prof Alexis Jay, the fourth person to lead the inquiry, apologised for any unnecessary anxiety caused to victims or survivors.

The troubled inquiry, launched by Theresa May when she was home secretary, has seen the departure of three chairs as well as its most senior and second-ranking counsel.

In the latest setback, one of the largest victims' groups involved withdrew from the inquiry, calling it an "unpalatable circus".

The move prompted calls for Prof Jay, who has the government's backing, to be replaced.

Ben Emmerson QC, the most senior lawyer at the inquiry, resigned in September.

The inquiry was told in September of a claim that Mr Emmerson had assaulted a woman working at its offices in a lift - a claim he has strenuously denied.

The alleged victim did not want the incident investigated.

In its report, the committee said it made no judgement on the claim, and suggested an external person could be appointed to examine the matter.

"We are not in a position, and it is certainly not our responsibility, to assess either the facts of the case or the details of the processes that the inquiry pursued," the report said.

"However, we do not believe that IICSA [the inquiry] has taken seriously enough its responsibility to pursue allegations of bullying or disclosures of sexual assault within the inquiry," it added.

"Nor do we believe it has done enough to demonstrate publicly that it has a robust approach to such matters."

MPs also urged the inquiry team to appoint new lawyers as soon as possible and suggested it split its workload into two strands - legal matters and child protection.

Ms Cooper said: "We found there was an unresolved tension over how far the inquiry should focus on uncovering the truth about past abuse and cover-ups and how far it should focus on current child protection policies.

"Both are important but they need different skills, experience and styles of work.

"This inquiry is far too important to be sunk by problems. That's why urgent action is needed to sort them out. Survivors of abuse deserve nothing less."

'Personally sorry'

In response, Prof Jay said an external senior legal figure would be invited to review some of the issues raised in the committee's report.

"While I am confident that our safeguarding and dignity at work procedures are robust, I recognise the impact of recent speculation and commentary about them," she said.

"Nobody is more determined to deliver a successful inquiry on behalf of victims, survivors and the wider public than the panel and myself.

"We recognise that the past few months have been difficult for the inquiry and for the victims and survivors who have placed their trust in it.

"I am personally sorry for any unnecessary anxiety the inquiry may have caused to victims and survivors during this transitional period."

She is expected to publish a review of how the inquiry operates in the coming weeks.


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs