Select Committee set to grill Lowell Goddard over decision to quit abuse inquiry

The chairwoman who has quit the troubled inquiry into child sex abuse has been asked to explain herself to MPs.

Dame Lowell Goddard is the third person to resign as head of the wide-ranging inquiry, which was set up amid claims of an establishment cover-up following allegations a paedophile ring operated in Westminster in the 1980s.

Her shock move has been met with anger and disappointment by abuse victims, and Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said her departure is “extremely disappointing”.

Mr Vaz told Sky News: “She is someone with impeccable credentials, so this is a big shock that she chooses to resign now.

“I think what’s really important is that we find out the reasons why she has decided to take this course of action.

“I’ve written to her today to ask her to come before the committee when we return at the end of August and share with us her thoughts about the setting up of this inquiry and why she resigned, and where she thinks we could go.

“Because although we’ve had ministers and Parliament and others involved, she of course has been intimately concerned with establishing this very difficult inquiry, so what she has to say is extremely pertinent, and I don’t really think a resignation letter or a statement is enough.

“So I’ve asked her whether she would be prepared to do this to help us in determining what is going to happen in the future.”

Dame Lowell was appointed in April 2015 and had spent more than 70 days working abroad or on holiday during her time in charge.

An inquiry spokesman said the 67-year-old had spent 44 days in New Zealand and Australia on inquiry business and was entitled to 30 days’ annual leave.

Dame Lowell did not give full reasons for leaving but said accepting the job had been “an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family”.

She also said its “legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off”.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the inquiry would “continue without delay” and a new chairman would be found.

Concerns have been raised that the Government will struggle to find someone of the right calibre and experience to take on the role, but Mr Vaz said he is confident a replacement will be found.

He said: “There are people who are qualified to do this job. Yes of course we have had three very distinguished people who have all said it’s too much for them, maybe we should be Balkanising this by looking at different parts to this inquiry? But we will only discover whether this is a possibility if we hear from Judge Goddard herself.”

He added: “I think that will be her biggest legacy; to be able to advise, in a non partisan way, the Government, Parliament and the public as to how to proceed.”

He said it is a “tough job” but “there are six billion people on the planet, I’m sure we can find someone else.”

Lucy Duckworth, who sits on the Victims and Survivors’ Consultative Panel, stressed that the inquiry must continue.

She told the BBC Radio Four Today Programme: “We need to make sure that, going forward, survivors that are encouraged to come and share their story with the inquiry are well supported and that is what is taking the time.

“This is a huge undertaking and it would be wrong to instantly start hearing evidence having not put those policies and procedures in place.”

The inquiry, which has launched 13 investigations including strongly-denied claims linked to Lord Greville Janner, has been described as the most ambitious public inquiry ever established in England and Wales.

It is estimated to take five years but many have said it is more likely to last a decade, while others have warned that costs could spiral.

It has been beset by delays since it was launched in 2014.

Baroness Butler-Sloss stood down in July 2014 amid questions over the role played by her late brother, Lord Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s.

Her replacement, Dame Fiona Woolf, resigned following a barrage of criticism over her “establishment links”, most notably in relation to former home secretary Leon Brittan, who died in 2015.

Former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald said the inquiry was becoming “unmanageable” and Ms Rudd must “take a whole fresh look at this”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: “This is now seen not so much as a poisonous chalice as a lethal injection and I think it is going to be very difficult for the Home Secretary to find someone to take this on.”

Labour’s shadow minister for preventing abuse Sarah Champion said she “completely understands” the anger of survivors at the latest setback to the inquiry.

Ms Champion told Channel 4 News: “For me, the most important thing is that this inquiry has to keep going forward. For a year, people have been coming forward and really trying to help and support by giving their most horrific stories that have been disregarded for years and years.

“They have given them to this inquiry, and if we lose the evidence that they’ve submitted now, we will be doing them a massive disservice.

“What I need the Government to do is get someone who has got the backbone and who will see this through.”

She added: “The Government gave the inquiry an almost impossible task, which is to look at, investigate and get justice for past child abuse … The scale of this is colossal.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Peter Byrne / PA Wire.