MPs conclude sex assault claim among abuse inquiry staff not taken seriously

Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse 'has not taken allegations of bullying or sexual assault seriously'

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Sexual assault and bullying allegations among staff at the UK’s independent inquiry into child abuse have not been taken seriously, a report by an influential group of MPs has found.

The Home Affairs Committee said disputed allegations that a senior member of the inquiry’s staff sexually assaulted a female worker in a lift were not properly pursued.

In their report the MPs highlighted how experienced lawyers have been quitting the inquiry’s team at an “alarming rate” and said consistent problems had “seriously diminished” its ability to deliver objectives.

Child abuse going 'undetected'

The inquiry has been beset by problems and is on its fourth chair after three former holders of the post stood down.

The committee’s report comes after Ben Emmerson QC, the most senior lawyer appointed to the Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), resigned following an allegation he sexually assaulted a female “inquiry worker” in a lift. Mr Emmerson stringently denies the claim.

The report said: “It is not for us to pass any comment on the allegations made in the media about the former counsel to the inquiry, which he has categorically denied.

“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.

“However, on the basis of the evidence we have seen, we do not believe that IICSA has taken seriously enough its responsibility to pursue allegations of bullying or disclosures of sexual assault within the inquiry.

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

The inquiry has reportedly denied receiving any complaint about the sexual assault. The alleged victim gave an account of the incident on the day it happened, but did not want the incident to be investigated, according to the BBC.

As part of their review, MPs sought the views of other former counsel on their experience of working with the inquiry.

But the report said that three out of four who had responded felt unable to provide substantive submissions, because the inquiry had not waived its confidentiality and privilege rights.

MPs said the inquiry would benefit from “greater transparency about its approach and greater public clarity about the different kinds of work it is undertaking”.

The probe has been plagued by problems since it was set up by then home secretary Theresa May in 2014.

Described as the most ambitious public inquiry ever launched in England and Wales, there are suggestions it could cost more than £100m.

In the latest setback last week, one of the largest victims’ groups involved withdrew co-operation, branding it an “unpalatable circus”.

The development sparked calls for chairwoman Professor Alexis Jay to be replaced, but she has been backed by the Government.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, chair of the committee, said: “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.”

Prof Jay became the fourth person to lead the inquiry following the resignation of Dame Lowell Goddard earlier this year.

The report also criticised Dame Lowell, accusing her of refusing to provide oral evidence to the committee.

In a letter earlier this month the New Zealand high court judge said she had never declined to provide oral evidence to the committee.

Dame Lowell said she had a duty to maintain judicial independence and had volunteered detailed written reports, adding that she was “not aware of any matter which remains unanswered”.

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