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New head of child abuse inquiry has no links to the establishment

17th Feb 2015

Lowell Goddard, the New Zealand high court judge who has been appointed as the head of the independent inquiry into child sex abuse, has reassured MPs by telling them that she has no prior establishment links.

Justice Goddard arrived in Britain on the 9th of February, and has already met with the home secretary and representatives of survivors’ groups. Goddard has said that she hopes to get the enquiry ‘up and running’ by early April. She also intends for it to have a ‘truth and reconciliation’ aspect, allowing victims to relate their experiences privately as well as in an investigative function in order to clarify what happened in the past so that children can be protected from sexual abuse.

Goddard is the third chair of the inquiry nominated by Theresa May, home secretary, since it was announced in July 2014 as a result of the aftermath of high-profile sexual abuse cases which came to light, such as that of the late Jimmy Savile. The initial two chairs of the inquiry, both of whom were senior women judges, stepped down from the job after accusations of conflicts of interest over links to establishment figures and/or institutions which were implicated in the cases being investigated.

Goddard has said that her 18 years as a judge in New Zealand led to her accepting the job when approached by the British high commission, as her record on child abuse offenders includes passing the longest sentence in New Zealand’s judicial history on a man who abused and murdered two girls.

Having met with survivors’ groups shortly after her arrival, Goddard has said that she will attempt to reconcile differences among the survivors’ groups. She felt they should not be directly represented on the inquiry panel and instead should be represented on an external advisory group given that ‘there are inherent risks in having people with personal experience of abuse as members of an impartial and independent panel’.

The current counsel to the inquiry, Ben Emmerson QC and the existing secretariat, are to remain in their positions. One of Goddard’s initial tasks is to look at the form of the inquiry into what she admitted was a massive scale of child abuse in Britain.

When asked by a Commons home affairs committee how she would deal with any attempts to obstruct the inquiry ‘from up high or from the establishment’, Goddard replied that ‘we don’t have such a thing in my country’. She also stated that she had no personal links with any persons or institutions implicated in the inquiry.