New Home Secretary Amber Rudd MP has appointed a new Chair of the national inquiry into sexual abuse of children in England and Wales. She has chosen Professor Alexis Jay – who was in charge of the inquiry into abuse in Rotherham.
Prof. Jay is the fourth Chair to be appointed. The first Chair, Baroness Butler-Sloss, and the second Chair, Dame Fiona Woolf, both resigned almost immediately after being appointed – both because they had links to individuals which left them with potential conflicts of interest. The third Chair, New Zealand Judge Justice Goodard, worked for several months but has recently resigned.
While former Home Secrertary Theresa May appointed lawyers, Amber Rudd has looked outside the legal world for her new appointment. Professor Jay is a former Director of Social Services who worked in local government for 30 years and is widely thought to have been a very competent Chair of the Rotheram inquiry.
Making the appointment, Amber Rudd said, “The independent inquiry has a vital role to play in exposing the failure of public bodies and other major organisations to prevent systematic child sexual abuse.” She may be underestimating the size of the task before the Inquiry. It will be looking into sexual abuse in large parts of the public sector, including local authority institutions and the NHS, religious bodies and the BBC. There area fears that it may take ten years for one Chair to collect all the evidence and produce a final report.
It is not so much an inquiry into isolated but linked cases of child sex abuse as inquiring into why society – as a whole – hid and tolerated this behaviour and sidelined so many complaints about individual instances. Professor Jay is optimistic and says she is “determined to make progress” – but it is hard to see why the Government has insisted this should be one single inquiry run by a single Chair. An approach involving appointing Chairs of sectoral inquiries into the various areas, with an overall Chair to keep the emerging results under review and then produce a final report, may have seen a much quicker result – and spared the victims of several years more waiting.