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St Helena Child Abuse Inquiry

Volume 588: debated on Thursday 20 November 2014

The House will be aware that serious allegations have been made by former employees of the authorities of the British overseas territory of St Helena. These allegations involve claims relating to child abuse in the territory, police corruption and incompetence, and a conspiracy by the St Helena Government (SHG), the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development to cover these up.

We are bound to take such allegations extremely seriously. Former FCO Minister for overseas territories, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) announced to the House on 21 July, Official Report, column 880W, the establishment of an independent inquiry to establish the truth of these allegations and make recommendations as appropriate.

I am pleased to inform the House that I have agreed that Ms Sasha Wass QC should lead this inquiry. Ms Wass is a very accomplished barrister with substantial professional experience of dealing with these kinds of issues. I am confident that she will lead this inquiry with great rigour, fairness and sensitivity.

Matters of child safety require discretion and confidentiality. The issues self-evidently involve vulnerable people, whose privacy must be protected and confidences respected. I am certain this inquiry will do that. But it is also important that this process is as transparent as possible. That is why I am today publishing the inquiry’s terms of reference, agreed with Sasha Wass, so the full scope of the issues is clear to everyone. I am also placing a copy of the terms of reference in the Library of both Houses.

I understand that Ms Wass will conduct an initial review of the allegations contained in various documents, including the independent reports produced by others in response to specific concerns raised previously. We are also providing Sasha Wass with full disclosure of the UK papers that relate to these allegations. Ms Wass will then make a judgment about the scope of her investigations, including on the appointment of a team of independent experts to help her with this task. I also understand that Ms Wass will travel to St Helena once this initial phase of her work is completed.

Since allegations relating to child safety were first raised in late 2012, the British Government have been swift to ensure that they were investigated appropriately. We commissioned the respected Lucy Faithfull Foundation to conduct an initial review, which was then followed by an investigation by Northumbria police. The reports made important recommendations, which the authorities on St Helena are working to implement with support from the UK. A number of arrests and convictions for child sex offences have also occurred.

More, however, needs to be done. This new inquiry will not be quick. But it will be thorough, and I am confident that the facts will be established.