Tessa Munt: Find new abuse inquiry Chair from abroad and involve public in selection

To me it had been clear that Fiona Woolf should step down as Chair of the Inquiry into historic sex abuse ever since it became clear that she had been on dinner party terms with Sir Leon Brittain. It’s not that she had done anything wrong, but it was clear at that point that it would be very difficult for everyone to have confidence in her impartiality. Once the victims had said that they didn’t support her continuing in the role, it was only a matter of time before she resigned, as she did this evening.

Back in July, Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child. Tonight, she discussed Fiona Woolf’s resignation and what should happen next on Radio 4’s PM programme.

You can listen to discussion on the whole issue here from the start of the broadcast, or go straight to Tessa at 36:50.

Sad it’s come to this, but it might have been anticipated. She supported a lot of things that the previous interviewee, representing the victims, had said.

She was asked where she thought we should go next.

Tessa suggested that the pubic should have a role in choosing the next Chair. She suggested using social media to get potential names and then allowing people to express concerns which could then be investigated before any appointments were made. She said that we shouldn’t entertain the idea of people’s reputations being trashed on Twitter, but if people had serious concerns, they could be looked into. There needed to be a lot more transparency in the process.

She talked about the need to make sure that we find someone, and a process, for this “Leveson of Child Protection” that’s trusted.

Tessa had suggested to Theresa May that she looked to the Commonwealth to see if anyone there would be suitable. She said:

This is something that has gone very, very wrong. We have got a deeply entrenched social problem within our culture. We need to expel this evil and make sure we can start again. We have a Governor of the Bank of England who is a Canadian. Why on earth should we not choose someone from another country who certainly will not be on dinner party terms as was criticised with the previous occupant.

These seem like pretty reasonable suggestions. The one comment I’d make is that the victims’ groups want a Judge in charge who can compel people to give evidence and take action against them if they refuse or tell lies. That would make the pool of potential chairs very small. Would a judge from, say, Canada have the authority under English law to do that?

Also on Radio 4 yesterday, Lord Ken McDonald, Liberal Democrat Peer and Director of Public Prosecutions, said that the opportunity should be taken to review the terms of reference of the Inquiry:

I don’t want to add to the feeding frenzy, but I think the bigger problem here is that this process has all the makings of an inquiry into everything everywhere. It’s looking at the professions, the armed services, the health service, the education system, social services, prisons, the churches, the BBC, political parties. I think expectations are being raised by the breadth of this, but the breadth of it may make it simply undeliverable.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • I favour an overseas appointment, too. I don’t see why a judge from overseas could not be given the authority to compel testimony by Parliament. The real question is: Why are people already in ‘the establishment’ so reluctant to have a thorough and impartial inquiry?

  • It is difficult to see why anyone would accept to chair this inquiry: it would be a hiding to nothing for whoever took it on. Virtually any outcome is likely to be contentious and lead to accusations about the competence or impartiality of those leading the process.

    The likely conclusions seem fairly obvious: very little evidence of an organised cover up or an organised secret group of sex abusers in high places, but plenty of evidence of more deferential attitudes in past times, which some in authority abused. However there is likely to be a lot of anger and controversy in the process that leads to this conclusion.

  • Stephen Donnelly 1st Nov '14 - 12:53pm

    Nothing against an overseas appointment, but there must be someone outside the London establishment able to chair this enquiry. Are there no people from a state school background working in Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh, Cardiff (or score of Country towns) who can do this job?

    The problem here is the establishment refusing to appoint someone outside their club.

    At times yesterday the media showed much more concern for Fiona wolf’s feeling, than those of the victims.

  • Why don’t they just turn it over to operation ewe tree. If retrospective evidence is strong enough to charge aging entertainers surely the same rules should apply to MPs. Inquiries are fine for telling you why crimes were not investigated, but that’s less important than actually arresting and charging people. We’re seeing the same thing in Rochdale and Manchester, lots of hand wringing and blame, but still the same old reluctance to actually arrest people.

  • Stephen Hesketh 1st Nov '14 - 4:24pm

    I’m with Stephen Donnelly on this.

    Why would someone from abroad be preferred over a non-metropolitan-elite Briton?

    OK, if there is there are no serious UK candidates or if the foreign candidate is outstanding but there must be tens or hundreds of suitable British people with the right personal and professional credentials and who weren’t educated at a socially elite school and hail from London or the home counties.

    Totally symptomatic of what has gone wrong with our democracy.

    If we are saying there aren’t any such candidates, this would further reinforce the concerns the rest of us have over the stranglehold the metropolitan elite increasingly have on our society, its power and wealth.

  • There is a problem with any Public Inquiry in 2014.

    People assume that the purpose is to get to the facts and maybe come up with recommendations for the future.

    But what does our real experience of recent years tell us?

    What for example have we learned from the experience of The Chilcot Inquiry?

    It was set up by Gordon Brown when he was PM and £10 million pounds and five years later what have we learned?

  • Hearing Nick trying to defend the previous appointment on the radio didn’t come across as one of his better moments, sadly.

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