There sat the latest incumbent of the poisoned chalice chair of IICSA, Alexis Jay, blinking wildly in the unaccustomed parliamentary limelight, looking for all the world like a child giving an ABE interview, supported on either side by her two ‘appropriate adults’. As each question was posed, she blinked ever faster, her little mouth opened and closed, and she glanced at her minders for support. Occasionally they trusted her to reply for herself.
The ‘appropriate adults’ were Drusilla Sharpling and Ivor Frank, two long standing members of the ‘advisory panel’ appointed to the ‘judge led’ public inquiry. A curious phrase that – ‘judge led’ – as you will come to appreciate.
It would appear, or we must believe, that no member of the panel had ever claimed that Dame Goddard was a racist, nor that she had ever shouted at anyone, nor that she had claimed you had to travel 50 miles from London before you saw a white face. No, siree, no such claim had ever been made, contrary to what you might have read in the media.
Dame Goddard has instructed Carter-Ruck in respect of these claims.
In fact the only complaint that ‘had ever been made’ was that Dame Goddard ‘would have preferred to sit alone’, that she kept ‘the panel at a distance’, that she was ‘couldn’t adapt to a collegiate style’ – or to put it in shorthand, that she was under the impression that this was a ‘judge led’ inquiry…and she was the judge…
3 The inquiry panel (1) An inquiry is to be undertaken either—
(a) by a chairman alone, or (b) by a chairman with one or more other members.
Inquiries Act 2005
So tense did relations become between the panel who thought they should be telling her what to do, and a highly experienced judge who thought she was running a ‘judge-led inquiry’, that, shock horror, the panel had thought it necessary to hire a professional ‘facilitator’.
A facilitator is someone who engages in the activity of facilitation. They help a group of people understand their common objectives and assists them to plan how to achieve these objectives; in doing so, the facilitator remains “neutral” meaning he/she does not take a particular position in the discussion.
If you wonder who was paying for this person to help the dog understand that the tail thought it should be wagging it – we did of course. The taxpayer.
Did anybody, in this unhappy atmosphere take any steps to do anything positive about it, or did they all sit around moaning to each other? Well, sort of, somebody did, though I have to say, in hindsight, it appears to be more of a back covering move.
Drusilla Sharpling told the committee, and she was very specific about the date this occurred – 26th April – she repeated it a number of times, that she told a ‘Home Office official’ about the troubles, with the panel’s knowledge – stipulating at the same time that ‘the information was to go no further’, and that ‘no action was to be taken’. That might seem a curious way of going about ‘whistleblowing’. Unless you just wanted to be able to say, at some unspecified time in the future, that you had reported your concerns ‘to the Home Office’…
Helpfully, she named the Home Office official. Mary Calam, Director-General for the Crime and Policing Group (CPG) at the Home Office. Mary Calam was not the liaison between the inquiry and the Home Secretary, which struck many on the committee as making her an odd choice.
She becomes an even odder a choice when you recollect a press release from April 2016… 22 days earlier, Mary Calam had ceased to be a Home Office official, or even a civil servant. Ms Sharpling says ‘I don’t indulge in gossip’ – I am not sure what to term disclosing your ‘information in confidence’ about your ‘boss’ to someone who is no longer an appropriate employee.
Mary Calam was as good as her word, and had told no one at the Home Office of the confidence entrusted to her. Quite right too.
Meanwhile, someone was leaking a steady stream of stories to The Times concerning Ben Emmerson QC and Dame Goddard. Poisonous stories. Stories designed to discredit a judge who thought she was leading a judge led inquiry, and an eminent QC who was fully aware of the parameters of a judge led inquiry. The present chair of the Inquiry, Alexis Jay, and her two minders, Drusilla Sharples and Ivor Frank, were all quite sure that there was no truth in the stories.
Both Ben Emmerson and Dame Goddard elected to resign. The assumption you might have made from the media coverage was that there must have been some truth in those stories – yet here were the most informed parties telling a parliamentary committee that there was no truth in them. Furthermore, neither Goddard nor Emmerson was penalised in terms of monies they were due in respect of their contract, and Mark Sedwill, the permanent secretary to the Home Secretary was at pains to point out that any attempt to do otherwise would have resulted in drawn out legal fisticuffs.
Far be it from me to suggest that both Emmerson and Goddard had decided that their reputations and their sanity were too valuable to put up with the backstage shenanigans and briefings to the media that were occurring.
Shortly after Dame Goddard’s resignation, the merry band of four panel members was depleted further. Alexis Jay was appointed Chairman.
7 (3) The power to appoint a replacement chairman may be exercised by appointing a person who is already a member of the inquiry panel.
Inquiries Act 2005
It was now ‘The Jay Inquiry’ – a social worker led inquiry, supported by her two stalwart ‘appropriate adults’ – Ivor Frank, barrister, and Drusilla Sharpling, barrister. They may, or may not appoint another barrister as counsel to the inquiry to replace Mr Emmerson.
One of the reasons for the past resignations, or should we say ‘designations’ of this Inquiry as being variously, the ‘Butler-Sloss Inquiry’, or the ‘Woolf Inquiry’, was that those eminent person ‘had lost the confidence of some of the victims and survivors’. Every time that cry went up, then the chairman was replaced.
In the middle of this hearing, loud shouts were heard coming from the back of the room and business had to be suspended for some minutes whilst a gentleman called Raymond Stevenson of the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association was ejected from the hearing. The interruption came just after Ivor Frank suggested that the inquiry could be finished by 2020, not least because ‘inquiry workers wanted their lives back’.
‘So do we!’ responded Mr Stevenson.
I understand that the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association are amongst those less than happy at having the inquiry led by a social worker in view of the involvement of social workers in the circumstances which led to their (documented in their case) abuse. It would seem a more valid objection than ‘had coffee with Lord Brittan on two occasions’ which saw off a previous Chairman that other survivors were unhappy with.
Does this mean that we will see a new Chairman appointed to lead the Inquiry? Good heavens no – both the appropriate adults were quick to say they were very happy to have the still-blinking-rapidly Alexis Jay in charge.
If that meant that ‘certain core participants’ refused to engage with the Inquiry – well, so be it….
We now have an Inquiry, originally estimated to cost £100 million, assuming it only lasted 10 years – but can last for as long as the Chairman chooses it to last…
(1) For the purposes of this Act an inquiry comes to an end— (a) on the date, after the delivery of the report of the inquiry, on which the chairman notifies the Minister that the inquiry has fulfilled its terms of reference.
Where the ‘panel and the Chair’ (the Messrs Jay, Sharpling, Frank, and the ghost like figure of Malcolm Evans, international expert in Torture) are firmly in control of how the inquiry proceeds, what it does, when it reports, and whether it condescends to appear before another parliamentary committee or not – as Mr Frank pointed out to the committee with anger flashing in his eyes. ‘We are here as a matter of courtesy, not right’.
Who cannot be added to by the Minister except with the agreement of the Chair:
(2) The power to appoint a member under subsection (1)(b) is exercisable only— (a) in accordance with a proposal under section 5(1)(b)(ii), or (b) with the consent of the chairman.
Which declines to answer any parliamentary questions concerning how they came to be in control of this Inquiry on the grounds that to discuss the behaviour of individuals or the reasons why they have departed would be an ‘infringement of their privacy rights’.
I just hope that employers, such as the church, the army, or local authorities, that are summoned to appear before hearings of this inquiry and commanded to reveal all information about their various employees take a similarly stringent application of their employees right to privacy…
Despite the fact that Keith Vaz had extracted a promise of an interim report this year from Dame Goddard, the new Chair hopes that ‘we might’ hear from them with an interim report in 2018…