The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse has been dogged by failure since it was set up – and the loss of its latest chair will fuel conspiracy theories that it was set up to fail.
Dame Lowell Goddard’s resignation letter does nothing to dispel such ideas, as it merely states that she is standing down with immediate effect.
A statement, released later, is no less opaque, despite considerably greater length. It runs as follows:
“I announce with regret my decision to resign as chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, effective from today.
“When I was first approached through the British High Commissioner in Wellington in late 2014, and asked to consider taking up the role, I had to think long and hard about it.
“After carefully discussing the matter with the home secretary and her officials and seeking the counsel of those people in New Zealand whose opinions mattered to me, I decided that I should undertake the role, given my relevant experience and track record in the area.
“It was, however, an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family.
“The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.
“While it has been a struggle in many respects, I am confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard.
“I have nothing but the greatest of respect for the victims and survivors and have particularly enjoyed working with the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel which I established.”
So, what is she saying? That she’s homesick? That she regrets leaving her career for this job? That the inquiry was too difficult for her?
Impossible to say.
All we know is that the next chairperson – the fourth – will have an even harder time making headway.
When she was appointed, back in February last year, Dame Lowell Goddard told the Commons Home Affairs select committee she wanted to have the troubled inquiry “up and running” by early April and would aim to revisit past wrongs, clarify what happened and ensure children were protected from sexual abuse.
She also said she intended for the inquiry to have a “truth and reconciliation” element to it, which would allow survivors to speak about their experiences in private if necessary – as well as an investigative function.
And she said she had no links to the establishment – unlike the previous two abortive chairs, Baroness Butler-Sloss (stood down in July 2014 following questions over the role played by her late brother, Lord Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s) and Dame Fiona Woolf (resigned following questions over her links to establishment figures) – telling MPs: “We don’t have such a thing in my country.”
Concerns had been raised about her record. According to one site, while heading the NZ Independent Police Conduct Authority, Justice Goddard concealed a number of serious complaints against police and, while Deputy Solicitor General, refused to release evidence that former judge Michael Lance was guilty of perverting justice in a police prosecution of his son Simon’s business partner, claiming it was not in the public interest to allow the prosecution.
But she dismissed allegations made by New Zealand bloggers by pointing out that her prime accuser has been officially certified a “vexatious litigant” and stressing that her record on child abuse included passing the longest sentence in New Zealand judicial history on a man who abused and murdered two girls.
At this rate, the inquiry will not report until everybody implicated in its investigations is long-dead.
Some might question whether that’s the idea.
Dame Lowell Goddard has resigned as the head of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.
The New Zealand high court judge – selected after two previous chairwomen quit – said the probe had already made “very real gains for victims”.
The investigation was set up in March 2015 to examine claims made against public and private institutions.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said a new chairperson would be appointed and work would continue “without delay”.
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