Baroness Butler-Sloss has just stepped down from chairing one of Theresa May’s inquiries into child sex abuse. Here’s her full statement:
“I was honoured to be invited by the Home Secretary to chair the wide-ranging inquiry about child sexual abuse and hoped I could make a useful contribution. It has become apparent over the last few days, however, that there is a widespread perception, particularly among victim and survivor groups, that I am not the right person to chair the inquiry.
It has also become clear to me that I did not sufficiently consider whether my background and the fact my brother had been Attorney General would cause difficulties. This is a victim-orientated inquiry and those who wish to be heard must have confidence that the members of the panel will pay proper regard to their concerns and give appropriate advice to Government.
Nor should media attention be allowed to be diverted from the extremely important issues at stake, namely whether enough has been done to protect children from sexual abuse and hold to account those who commit these appalling crimes.
Having listened to the concerns of victim and survivor groups and the criticisms of MPs and the media, I have come to the conclusion that I should not chair this inquiry and have so informed the Home Secretary. I should like to add that I have dedicated my life to public service, to the pursuit of justice and to protecting the rights of children and families and I wish the inquiry success in its important work.”
It’s a blow to the Home Secretary, whose swift statement last week was broadly received as a good move. To lose an inquiry chairman a week into proceedings obviously undoes some of the progress made last week.
It’s also another insight into the frantic nature of such scandals, which tend to resemble a Man versus Horse race. The story is the horse, endlessly galloping on, while the Government of the day is the man, forced to frantically dash, pell-mell, ever onwards lest his four-legged adversary builds up too much of a lead.
The only way to survive such a struggle is to get out in front and stay there – as MPs’ expenses showed, if you’re sluggish then you will be chasing the issue for years, with disastrous results. The risk is that in hurrying to stay ahead, you make mistakes.
This is just such an error. In the ordinary process of appointments, I’m sure the Home Office would have thought twice about the fact that the Baroness’ brother was likely to feature in some way in the inquiry, given his position in the 1980s – and they would likely have recognised that, while she is a highly acclaimed judge, that involvement would tinge perception among the public and, particularly, among survivors who already have good reason to be suspicious of the authorities.
Butler-Sloss herself has evidently had a fairly torrid week. No-one signs up to investigate such horrific allegations for the good of their health – she evidently agreed to take the role because it was a job that needed doing, and she has an admirable sense of public service. In return, she’s been rinsed – not only regarding valid questions about potential conflicts of interest, but also over absurdities like the fact she was a Conservative candidate in the 1950s, of all things. It probably feels like bitter thanks for taking on the job – but she has left the role with the same responsible attitude with which she accepted it, which is to her credit.
However, a galloping horse has no concern for those it passes by (or tramples over), and the race between the Home Secretary and the scandal is still on. Having dashed ahead of it last week, she has slipped on the scree – the task now is to right herself, and appoint a replacement who can weather the scrutiny.