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Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Volume 798: debated on Thursday 4 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions officials from the Home Office have had with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in the last month.

My Lords, as sponsors to the inquiry, Home Office officials have a responsibility to protect the inquiry’s independence and ensure that it has the resources it needs to deliver its terms of reference, as set out in the IICSA management statement. Regular discussions have taken place in the last month regarding such sponsorship.

My Lords, is it not ironic that, while so-called complainants with substantial criminal records are accorded anonymity as witnesses before IICSA, those who stand accused, such as Harvey Proctor and Lord Janner, still have no anonymity, no right to cross-examine witnesses and no right of defence, and can still be freely attacked, even when they are dead? IICSA is not listening to Parliament. Is this not precisely what Sir Cliff Richard was referring to yesterday when launching the FAIR campaign, a petition for pre-charge anonymity now being supported by thousands every day? The law is an ass and should be reformed. I ask noble Lords to listen to the excellent episode of “The Moral Maze” broadcast last night on BBC Radio 4, in which these matters were dealt with beautifully.

My Lords, on the first point, the hearings are inquisitorial and enable the inquiry to test witnesses and their evidence. All core participants are provided with the evidence; their legal teams are permitted to propose questions for the witnesses and apply to the chair for permission to put them. Regarding the point that the noble Lord made yesterday, I cannot comment on the handling of specific investigations but, as I said then, current police guidance is very clear and adopts a similar approach to that advanced by the petition to which the noble Lord refers. Suspects’ identities should not be released before charge, save in exceptional circumstances and with proper oversight. I am not aware of evidence to suggest that the police are not following that guidance.

My Lords, for too many years, victims of child sexual abuse have been ignored; it is now their time to be heard. What consideration have the Government given to special provisions where serious allegations of child sexual abuse are made against those who have died or are otherwise unable to defend themselves?

I wholeheartedly agree with the first part of the noble Lord’s question. For too long, those victims have been ignored. On the anonymity to which he refers—we talked yesterday about his Bill—I explained in my Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, about the presumption of anonymity, save in exceptional circumstances.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept the seething discontent in your Lordships’ House about the way in which the reputations of Sir Edward Heath, Leon Brittan and Greville Janner have been trashed? Can she not see that this House wants something like a royal commission to be set up on this issue, appointed by the Government and given six or nine months to report?

I of all people am very aware of the anger in your Lordships’ House. Let us get to the heart of what IICSA is about: I am also aware of the historic issues that need to be tested and explored through that inquiry, for all those people for whom some of the historic events have not yet been addressed.

As the Minister said, the College of Policing’s guidelines advise officers not to,

“name those arrested, or suspected of a crime, save in exceptional circumstances where there is a legitimate policing purpose to do so”.

Yesterday, in the debate on the Question in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, two noble Lords referred to the desirability for a judge or a court to have to approve the release by the police of the name of an individual arrested or suspected of a crime but not charged, as opposed to that approval being given, as now, by a chief officer following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service. I am not quite sure of the Government’s position on this point. Do they believe that the present College of Policing guidelines satisfactorily address the issue of anonymity until charged for those arrested or suspected of any offence, or are they now seriously considering whether the decision to name an individual not yet charged should be judicial, rather than for the police?

Perhaps it would be helpful if I went over what I said yesterday. The College of Policing’s authorised professional practice guidance on relationships with the media makes it clear that suspects’ names should be released to the media prior to charge only in exceptional circumstances if there is a legitimate policing purpose to doing so—for example, where there is a threat to the public or for the prevention and detection of crime. This approach recognises that there is a risk of unfair damage to the reputations of those arrested, particularly if they are never charged. The noble Lord asks whether we support this approach. Yes, we do; as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, we have every evidence that the police are sticking to that guidance.

Does the new guidance mean that never again will a police officer pronounce, having talked to a complainant, that his evidence was credible and true?

The issue of Operation Conifer allowed the police to look at the guidance and make sure that it is as clear as it can be. As I said, there is no evidence that the police are flouting that guidance. I hope that that situation will continue.

My Lords, child abuse is endemic in many institutions and has been historically. What is being done to ensure that people who are now older, but who suffered so terribly in different institutions, are still encouraged to come forward, give evidence and seek justice? We know that many have already committed suicide or died, but it is very important that we do not forget that those children and young people need protecting.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right; many of those children are now well into adulthood, and it is very important that people feel that they can come forward and give their testimony to the inquiry. More than 320 individual victims and survivors are participants in the inquiry, as well as a number of other survivor groups and institutions. To date, the inquiry has received almost 2 million pages of evidence, while more than 300 witnesses have given evidence.