I find it hard to believe that no questions have been asked about the cost of the new ‘historic child abuse’ inquiry. Not least because since it was first announced last July by the Home Secretary, it has already taken on a saga-like quality.
Two chairmen down and seven months later it is only now getting going with a new head at its helm, brought over at considerable expense from New Zealand, and with a massively expanded remit.
Initially Theresa May said that it would examine the duty of care taken by British public bodies and other notable institutions in protecting children from sexual abuse. Those to be scrutinised included the police, the courts, the education system, the BBC and the NHS. Individual cases of abuse would not, she said, be investigated, but this was still no mean task.
Now any such constraints on its remit have gone by the board. The newly appointed and apparently zealous New Zealand High Court Judge, Lowell Goddard, seems to have been given a free hand. The inquiry, she says, will be expanded to include the Rotherham abuse. (What next I wonder – Rochdale – why not?). She will also have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence both in person and in writing. It will go all the way back to 1945 and still be sitting in 2018. Backed by Mrs May she will be in charge of the world’s biggest ever investigation into paedophiles. It will take years.
Please tell me someone that this is not true and the Mail on Sunday have got it wrong. If the Chilcot and the Saville inquiries are anything to go, by 2018 is most likely a conservative estimate. The vision looms of a bottomless pit of cost – which has not been mentioned at all.
Just think Sir John Chilcot. He still hasn’t reported after 6 years at a cost that has already topped £9 million. So what hope can there be for this latest Inquiry? And far from placating the parents of those who died or were injured in the Iraq War, the Chilcot Inquiry seems to have rubbed salt into the wounds
It does not presage well for Lowell Goddard.
Did any of this, I wonder, cross the minds of the two MPs – Tim Loughton and Zac Goldsmith – who instigated it or the 150 MPs who backed them?
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, also known as the Saville Inquiry after its chairman, Lord Saville of Newdigate, is another that Messrs Loughton and Goldsmith might have reflected on first before opening this Pandora’s box.
Established in 1998 by Prime Minister Tony Blair in response to campaigns by the families of those killed and injured in Derry on Bloody Sunday in January 1972, it was only finally published on 15 June 2010 – twelve years later. Labelled a “shambles” by Peter Oborne of The Daily Telegraph it cost more than £400 million (and that was estimated in 2006, several years before it finally reported).
I don’t think I am exaggerating when I predict a similar shambles with the child abuse inquiry
But our politicians, it seems, ignore the lessons of history. That’s what has to be assumed from the absence of any questions as to cost, budgeting, time and duration limits.
Are none of our MPs bothered about the nation’s ability to afford this latest unbudgeted spending spree at a time there is £1.5 trillion of debt to pay down?
Or are they all too scared not to be seen to be genuflecting to the dominant culture of complaint?
Apart from the question of cost surely there is also the risk of the whole thing descending into a witch-hunt. I am not comforted by the Justice Goddard’s belief that sex abusers of 1945 should be treated the same as those of 2015. These are no Nuremburg Trials I would remind her – and we are talking 70 years later when memories are unreliable and evidence absent.
It strikes me as pretty cavalier – and arrogant.
A politically cavalier attitude to public money also explains why Mrs May feels able to burden the taxpayer with the costs of bringing this New Zealander over and giving her her head. Prudence, it seems, is not Theresa’s second name after all. If it were she would have kept her sights restricted to a British judge.
Why not the policeman’s daughter Lady Justice Hallet? Could not she have fulfilled the role? Even if she wasn’t available don’t tell me there was no male judge in whole of Britain to do the job. Or did it have to be a women in our non-discriminatory democracy. Were male candidates disqualified (as potential sexual predators) by virtue of their gender?
Then I suppose there was the question of political acceptability to the liberal left. Heaven forfend she should invite someone as conservative as the recently retired Family Court Judge and head of the Marriage Foundation, Sir Paul Coleridge. That would never do, never mind how honourable, competent or tarnish free.
So while our politicians obsess over tax abuse (a whole new frontier in the culture of complaint), enjoy trading insults and score points over each other’s respective tax affairs and domestic staff payment habits, the nation’s housekeeping – their proper concern – runs, as ever, unattended and out of control.
Having a woman in charge at the Home Office makes no earthly difference to that.
So Bleak House it will be all over again. Justice Lowell Goddard will still be calling witnesses in thirty years time by which time the nation’s coffers will be empty of anything to recompense them with. Her fees and costs will have drained them dry.