Theresa May accused of cover-up over child abuse inquiry concerns

It comes after a string of high-profile resignations from the inquiry into historic abuse

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Theresa May faces claims of a cover-up after she admitted knowing about concerns over how the child abuse inquiry was being run weeks before any official action was taken to address them.

The Prime Minister accepted there had been “stories around” about the troubled probe when she was Home Secretary, but that it had been impossible for her to act on hearsay.

It follows a string of resignations from the inquiry into historic child abuse allegations, including that of former chair Dame Lowell Goddard who quit earlier this year amid concerns about her professionalism and competence.

Downing Street had said the first Ms May officially knew about concerns was in late July, but inquiry staff revealed issues were raised with the Home Office months earlier.

After being confronted with the new information, No 10 officials admitted Ms May knew about concerns when she was still Home Secretary, some weeks before the end of July.

Following the revelation, Labour MP Lisa Nandy said: “For far too many child abuse survivors, cover-ups, secrecy, institutions that act in denial will be far too familiar.

“And I’m not the first person to say that this feels like a cover-up. In fact there are a number of child abuse survivors who have been involved in the inquiry who are voicing those concerns as well.”

Speaking to Sky News, she added: “If Theresa May is serious about allowing the truth to emerge, and for people to have confidence in this inquiry, then she needs to come clean about what she knew and when.”

Child sex abuse inquiry

Asked by Ms Nandy in the Commons why she had not intervened to address concerns earlier, the Prime Minister claimed it was important the Government not be seen to interfere with the inquiry. 

Ms May went on: “There were stories around about the inquiry and about individuals related to the inquiry, but the Home Secretary cannot intervene on the basis of suspicion, rumour or hearsay.”

The Prime Minister accepted claims that some information was discussed with the director general at the Home Office, but said that the individual involved had asked for the conversation to be kept confidential. She said when the Home Office was officially informed in July, it did take action.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Nandy said: “She set up the inquiry, she appointed the chair, she was the individual responsible for the inquiry’s success.

“She was the Home Secretary in April and she was the only person who had the power to act.”

New Zealand High Court Judge Dame Lowell resigned from the inquiry after the Home Office was made aware of concerns about her conduct.

But she has since strongly denied allegations against her, including claims that she used racist language, describing them as falsities, malicious and part of a vicious campaign.

The new chair of the inquiry Professor Alexis Jay told a select committee hearing on Tuesday that there had been difficulties between staff because, “it was clear from the beginning that Lowell Goddard really would have preferred to sit on her own without the assistance of a panel.”

Another panel member Ivor Frank told the same hearing that the inquiry’s work was easier when Dame Lowell was out of the country.

On Monday, Professor Jay set out her aim to complete a significant amount of the inquiry’s work by the end of 2020. An interim report is due in March.

Described as the most ambitious public inquiry ever in England and Wales, it was earmarked to take five years, but there have been suggestions it could run for as long as a decade at a cost of up to £100m.