Gone: From left, Dame
Lowell Goddard, Ben Emmerson
and Elizabeth Prochaska
|The UK's biggest child abuse inquiry has suffered another loss of confidence in its leadership as a survivors' group of 600 abuse victims has withdrawn from the review – dubbed "a legal Titanic".
Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, which represents victims who lived in children's homes run by Lambeth Council, says the inquiry has stumbled from "crisis to crisis", labelling it an "unpalatable circus".
The treatment of children in care in Lambeth, south London, during the second half of the 20th century is one of 13 areas the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is due to look at.
The claim a large paedophile network infiltrated children's homes in the area is one of the first the inquiry will investigate, with the Shirley Oaks group due to have been a "core participant" in the process.
However, in a strongly-worded statement to the BBC, the group described the IICSA as a "botch job" in need of a drastic overhaul.
On Wednesday (November 16) at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs), Theresa May said she had "full confidence" in its leadership but the group but the group claimed the inquiry's chair – former social worker Professor Alexis Jay – is planning nothing more than a social work talk shop, which it says will achieve nothing.
The Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, which has repeatedly threatened to withdraw in the past, is planning to publish the results of its own investigation.
It says the Home Office, which sponsors the inquiry and provided some of its staff, had a role in covering up abuse in the past.
Professor Jay, who led the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, was named as the fourth chair of the inquiry in August.
The inquiry has been beset by difficulties since it was set up in July 2014 by then Home Secretary Mrs May to investigate allegations made against local authorities, religious organisations, the armed forces and public and private institutions in England and Wales, as well as people in the public eye.
Three chairwomen – former president of the High Court Family Division Baroness Butler-Sloss; her replacement, leading lawyer Dame Fiona Woolf; and Justice Goddard, a New Zealand high court judge – have already stood down.
On Tuesday (November 15), Professor Aileen McColgan became the seventh lawyer to quit the panel amid serious concerns about the competency of Professor Jay. She was leading inquiries into child abuse in the Anglican and Catholic churches.
Last month, Ben Emmerson QC, the most senior lawyer on the inquiry, resigned, while it emerged Elizabeth Prochaska – the inquiry's second most senior lawyer – had also stepped down in September.
This week it was announced the inquiry has also delayed hearings into how child sex allegations against the late Labour peer Lord Janner were handled. A spokesperson said this was to allow police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission to continue separate investigations.
The inquiry has defended its stance as "absolutely committed" to the case and said it took the decision to avoid "potential issues around witness overlap".
But Lord Janner’s son Daniel, a criminal QC, said: “They are fighting like ferrets on the deck of a legal Titanic which has now hit the rocks. It is not fit for purpose.
“The strand in relation to my late father, who is innocent, is a macabre injustice.”
The Labour Party has said the whole abuse inquiry is now facing a "crisis of credibility".
However, addressing concerns about the inquiry at this week's PMQs, Theresa May said: "Having seen the work that Professor Alexis Jay has done in the Rotherham inquiry that she undertook I have absolute confidence in her ability to undertake this inquiry."
She said it was the victims and survivors "that we must always keep at the forefront of our minds".