Yesterday, it was claimed that Ben Emmerson, the Child Abuse Inquiry’s chief counsel, was about to resign from it. Today, it is reported that he has been suspended. The inquiry has already lost three Chairmen: Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, Fiona Woolf and Lowell Goddard.
It was originally set up at a time when parts of the media, in a collective bout of hysteria, was on the verge of naming people as child abusers without evidence. The fact of its announcement persuaded the press to pause, and it thus performed a useful role without having even begun. The paradox is that it has produced nothing of any use since; indeed, it has yet to hold an evidence session. Its scope includes 12 wide-ranging investigations, including one into the protection of children outside Britain. As if this workload were not enough, Goddard played to the gallery by undertaking a headline-grabbing inquiry into the Greville Janner allegations. This was a prelude to her downfall, and the appointment of Alexis Jay, who has evidently fallen out with Emmerson.
Before she went, Goddard wrote that the Home Secretary should undertake “a complete review of the inquiry in its present form, with a view to remodelling it and recalibrating its emphasis more towards current events and thus focusing major attention on the present and future protection of children.” In short, Goddard was suggesting that it was unworkable without simplification. Whatever the goings-on with personalities may be (or have been), this cut to the heart of the matter. The inquiry cannot hope to examine the past treatment of children in the care of Lambeth Council, Nottinghamshire councils, Rochdale Council, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, custodial institutions and residential schools over scores of years effectively.
During her brief leadership election campaign, Theresa May abandoned her previous commitment to pull Britain out of the ECHR – a move that was justified by the implications of ECHR withdrawal for post-EU referendum Scotland and Northern Ireland.
She did so deftly and with little blowback. The time has come for her to junk another part of the legacy from her time in the Home Office. The Emmerson palaver is a straw on the back of this exhausted camel. It should be put out of its misery without delay.