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i Editor's Letter: The value of public inquiries



“You spoilt my breakfast,” writes i reader Geoff Humphries. “Salmond’s ugly mug and what looks like another trawl for geriatric paedos.” West Norwood’s Ron Clough writes of our Rolf Harris story on Saturday: “I have been dismayed by the meretricious media coverage of sex offences committed by celebrities. This sensational treatment is designed to appeal to the  prurient side of human nature in order  to sell newspapers or attract viewers.”

I share such distaste for the stories. Without resorting to frivolity, we try not to be too bleak in our coverage of  the world every day. But in the case of  today’s cover story – the inquiry into how public bodies handled claims of child sex abuse – this isn’t some  media paedo-geddon. At stake are public confidence, possibly justice and,  if institutional failures are found, the chance to prevent future such crimes.

It has become fashionable to denigrate inquiries. They are sometimes pointless, used by politicians to kick  unpleasant problems into the undergrowth. But they can also teach lessons  and bring solace to the harmed.

The Hillsborough Independent Panel  finally absolved Liverpool fans of responsibility for the disaster – and revealed the mass cover-up of police negligence. The earlier Taylor Report transformed safety at British football matches. After the Bristol baby heart scandal, Sir Ian Kennedy’s recommendation that mortality rates be  published helped to trigger later investigations into appalling treatment at Mid Staffs and at Basildon.

The Cullen Inquiry into the Dunblane massacre led to handguns being  banned. The words “institutionally racist” will long be associated with the  Metropolitan Police and the murder of  Stephen Lawrence. Lord Laming’s investigation into the murder of  Victoria Climbié revolutionised social  workers’ approach to child protection.

I fear that Theresa May’s new inquiry – unable to compel witnesses to give evidence – will struggle to uproot the answers it needs. But it deserves our support.


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