The Home Affairs Committee met yesterday to discuss the work of the IICSA. IICSA witnesses were: Professor Alexis Jay OBE – Chair, and Panel Members Ivor Frank and Drusilla Sharpling CBE.
The Committee sought to address three key areas:
- What was going on? Focusing on the departure of Dame Lowell Goddard and other key players;
- A synopsis of where the IICSA was now; and
- Where the Inquiry goes from here.
The IICSA witnesses provided a unified front and although at they were times unable to answer questions due to confidentiality/HR issues, or an understandable reluctance to engage in further personal criticism, they were able to explain:
- As Panel members they had had concerns about Goddard’s leadership – they considered she would have preferred to have sat without a Panel. Under her tenure they were kept at a distance from a lot of the Inquiry’s activities. Drusilla Sharpling reported concerns regarding Goddard’s leadership and the IICSA’s progress to the Home Office in April 2016 but made it very clear she gave no permission then for such concerns to be taken further; it was merely a notification of the situation to the Home Office.
- The witnesses refused to be drawn into media speculation, especially that relating to Ben Emmerson QC, but they confirmed Emmerson was retained by the Inquiry following his resignation to undertake a handover, however this period was coming to an end shortly. Professor Jay reiterated a number of times that the Inquiry is bigger than any individual, ego or personality.
- The Inquiry has made progress and there have been collective achievements as a result of the hard work of staff, who would continue to work hard moving forward. Professor Jay made it clear the review she initiated following her appointment was on-going and further details would be provided in due course and although the IICSA’s work was moving forward it would be tackled in a different way. Its scope however would not be reduced. The witnesses explained a plan was in place to progress and report with the intention that significant progress will have been made by 2020; with an interim report to be produced by 2018 and further reports to be provided as progress is made.
- When asked about the perceived lost confidence in the Inquiry, the IICSA witnesses said they felt the Inquiry had the confidence of many, they continued to engage with survivors and would be taking up more invitations to go and talk about the work of the Inquiry.
Ivor Frank and Drusilla Sharpling confirmed they had no issues with Jay’s leadership. Ivor Frank was keen to highlight to the Committee, that whilst he understood their interest and request for further information relating to the number of Home Office employees working for the IICSA, the IICSA guarded its independence. The IICSA witnesses also made it clear they were present as a matter of courtesy not compulsion.
Professor Jay said the Inquiry would welcome a period of time with no distractions and hopefully moving forward this can be achieved.
Mark Sedwill – Permanent Secretary, Home Office, was then interviewed. The questions put to him related to old territory: Goddard’s appointment; the relationship between the IICSA and the Home Office; allegations against Goddard. He was heavily criticised, along with Amber Rudd, in relation to the evidence they previously gave. Sedwell suggested his evidence was based on the line of questioning, previously the focus was on Goddard’s own motives for stepping down. He confirmed the concerns raised by Drusilla Sharpling were an early warning to the Home Office but it was understood the Panel were seeking to deal with concerns internally. If a formal complaint had been made, steps would have been taken. Sedwill also confirmed Goddard made no request to the Home Office to withdraw her resignation as suggested in the press.
The media might have been hoping or expecting more “gossip” to fuel the frenzy that has surrounded the IICSA in the last few months, but the IICSA – presented yesterday by its new Chair and two of its Panel members, refused to engage in such discussions instead seeking to focus public attention on the IICSA’s work – previous, current and on-going, and the purpose for which the IICSA was established.