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Child Abuse Inquiry Participants Say Suella Braverman has ‘Used Them’ and Dashed Their Hopes

Eight years since the landmark independent inquiry began and six months after it delivered its report, there has been no practical response from the Home Secretary

Posed Photo: Robert Smith/Alamy

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Participants in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse have accused Home Secretary Suella Braverman of using child abuse victims for political ends while kicking the inquiry’s recommendations “into the long grass.”

With an average of 282 child sexual offences reported to the police every day (according to 2021/22 police records), participants in the seven-year-long £186.6 million inquiry have told Bylines Times the Government’s response to the detailed findings lack urgency, detail, seriousness, or any timetable for implementation. 

Over 7,000 abuse victims testified to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) set up in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal and other revelations of widespread abuse and child protection issues. They chronicled what the inquiry called a “national epidemic” on a “deeply disturbing” scale. It heard evidence from hundreds of witnesses, from survivors of horrendous childhood abuse to figures from police, government, justice, education and religious establishments.

After 325 public hearings, 15 investigations and dozens of reports, chair Professor Alexis Jay called for the inquiry’s 20 key recommendations to be enacted by the Government as a “matter of urgency” to tackle “an ever-growing problem.”

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Chasing Headlines?

In a week when her career hung in the balance, the Home Secretary finally gave what she said was the Government’s response to the child abuse inquiry set up eight years by her predecessor Theresa May. Suella Braverman’s response came around a month after the Government’s six-month deadline to respond to the IICSA’s report had lapsed.

Braverman’s statement came on a day overshadowed by accusations that the Home Secretary tasked civil servants to help with a speeding conviction, had failed to disclose her former working connections to Rwandan government lawyers, and a growing storm over her party’s handling of UK immigration.

“This Government have repeatedly shown our determination to stop the scourge of child sexual abuse. Just last month the Prime Minister and I announced new measures to tackle the evil of grooming gangs, but there is zero room for complacency and the inquiry’s final report confronts us with a necessary moment for further reflection,” the Home Secretary told the House of Commons. “We are accepting the need to act on 19 of the inquiry’s 20 final recommendations.”

“The Home Secretary says that she accepts the need to act,” responded Labour MP Sarah Champion. “That is not the same as acting. She said that victims would have visibility in the work that will be done, and that there would be consultation and monitoring. Where is the funding? Where is the actual getting on with the recommendations? What is the one recommendation that the Home Secretary does not accept? She has not told us that.”

Braverman avoided answering the Rotherham MP’s questions in parliament, instead referring her to an official response to the IICSA recommendations that the Government published online

Yet Sarah Champion, who had lobbied for the national inquiry, advocates for survivors and appeared as a Core Participant in the inquiry herself, told Byline Times that there are no details, timeframe, or funding commitments in the Government’s response to the IICSA. 

Champion also questioned why the Government’s response was to delay some recommendations with further public consultation. An important example is the inquiry’s urgent call for “mandatory reporting” – in the UK people working with children, are, despite what you’d think, still not required by law to report any form of sexual abuse against a child. The IICSA recommended legislation so that those who work with children in certain roles have a statutory obligation to report child sexual abuse to the police or social services.

Before the recent local elections, Braverman had said her Government was “committed to introducing mandatory reporting across the whole of England,” linking the issue with grooming gangs and certain ethnicities, and saying that further details would be revealed. Yet there have been calls for such legislation since before the IICSA was announced in 2014.

Champion questioned why Braverman picked the moment when she was making headlines for all the wrong reasons to finally respond to the IICSA’s findings and said she was “really tempted to say it’s being used as a dead cat by Braverman.” Champion paid tribute to all those forced to relive their trauma to testify to the inquiry over the years, adding: “it disgusts me that this Government is still chasing headlines rather than actually doing the job they’re paid to do.”

She explained to Bylines Times: “We have a government that is falling apart now and we know that the mandatory reporting recommendation of the inquiry was used to gain headlines in the run up to local elections and for me there was nothing new in the Home Secretary’s new statement to the House of Commons.” The Labour MP said a statement to the chamber is usually “newsworthy or of pressing national interest,” yet “there was nothing in it. – It was a non-statement.” 

“It is so wrong that they are using child abuse in such a manipulative a way. It is utterly immoral,” added Champion. “There is nothing they are taking action on, no mention of any detail. All they are committing to is looking at more public consultations to see if they want to do something. 

“The inquiry has been meticulous. Over the course of seven years, over £185 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent. Thousands of victims and survivors have spoken their truth and it was listened to. This response is a waste of all that experience – experience that could help prevent child abuse in the future and instead it has been ignored by the Government. 

“Suella Braverman has said she’ll have a further consultation on some of these things but that’s what’s been happening over the last seven years. I don’t know what more the Government is consulting on. This appears to be what they do best – kicking important issues into the long grass.”

Victims Retraumatised

Bylines Times spoke to survivors who gave horrific testimony of child sex abuse, evidenced how institutions such as the criminal justice system, councils, police and insurance companies had let victims down and also contributed towards the inquiry’s recommendations. They are equally scathing about the Government’s response – or lack of it.

Nigel O’Mara, a core participant of the inquiry and veteran child sexual abuse survivors campaigner told Bylines Times that he feels the Government appears to be just “playing lip service.”

“They say they are accepting recommendations, but there is no actual announcement of movement on anything and the things they are saying they are going to do, they’ve kicked into the long grass. For example, a redress scheme for what survivors went through – they say they want extensive consultation, so what have we just had? A redress scheme needs to happen soon if it’s not going to be too late for many of the survivors. Many survivors who participated are old, some have died waiting for the inquiry to report its findings,” said O’Mara.

“There should be emergency legislation as well as funding commitments, some recommendations can be added to current legislation such as the Victims Bill. Children need to be protected now, otherwise, the Government’s only paying lip service to the inquiry.”

O’Mara, a core participant in the inquiry’s Accountability and Reparations investigation said he only found out about Suella Braverman’s announcement of a response when he happened to check what was on in parliament that day. He said he felt the Government is “only using this as a distraction – they are only leaking out certain bits of information and when you look at what they’re actually going to do there is nothing to address the main core problems of child sex abuse in the country.”

Alistair Aldridge is one of the surviving core participants who provided horrifying testimony of a stolen childhood under the sadistic regime at the Home Office-approved Forde Park School, where the police and Devon Council were found to have ignored children’s complaints of abuse before it was finally shut down in 1985. He also waived his right to anonymity to express his concerns to Byline Times.  

“Suella Braverman is clearly using us as a smokescreen for her own sleeze, using us to mask all that. To prove she is not she needs to come out with a timetable saying what the Government is actually going to do and when,” Alistair Aldridge told Byline Times. “Suella Braverman’s statement to parliament said that she had listened to survivors. But if she had why would she be calling for further consultations?

“All our thousands of testimonies went into the inquiry. The victims consultative panel advised the inquiry. The inquiry itself spoke to victims and all the other stakeholders. Was £186.6 million wasted for nothing? What was the point of putting us all through that, just to announce another public consultation? I know several core participants in our unit who died over the course of the inquiry – and for what? By the time another consultation is over a lot more us could be dead. If they kick all this into the long grass they are hanging us out to dry yet again.”

A Core Participant of the IICSA’s Nottinghamshire investigation known by the inquiry as F39 to preserve her anonymity had given devastating testimony of how she had been let down by her local council, school, police and family court when she was groomed by a violent adult who fathered her child – a child handed to live with her abuser. 

She is equally scathing about the Government’s response to the inquiry recommendations: “The strength it took me and others to come forward, – I had to force myself to talk about this, re-traumatise myself. We did it so future generations would be safe. As a mother of a child born through sexual abuse, it took a lot, but I had to speak out to make changes for the better protection of children in the future. 

“If there had been mandatory reporting when I was 15 years old, I would have been listened to, protected, supported,” she added. “I wouldn’t have ended up having a teenage pregnancy. I had been very ambitious at school and my life would have taken a very different trajectory. The redress scheme should compensate people for the loss of education, earnings, psychological scars, mental health problems and the different trajectory of their entire life. So where is the budget for this? Why order another public consultation?

“Mandatory reporting, of all the recommendations, is the most important and should be implemented immediately – there is no reason not to. I can’t understand why Suella Braverman is not implementing this. Her statement was absolutely disrespectful and patronising to survivors. It’s another blow to us, after all we’ve been through, to say she’s listened to us and yet, somehow we should have another public consultation.”

“I don’t know how much clearer the inquiry can be with its recommendations,” she added. “I think Suella Braverman has used survivors for her own agenda and is avoiding doing the right thing. Why not implement the inquiry? Survivors have been through enough without dragging us through it all again and re-traumatising us.” 

Another core participant, David Harries, who passed through notorious care homes from the age of 11, spoke to Bylines Times about the importance of the IICSA’s recommendations when the inquiry reported its findings last October (on a day Prime Minister Liz Truss chose to resign). David felt vindicated by the IICSA’s recommendations on removing victims’ barriers to redress. He had been told he was just three months too old for the 21-year-old cut-off for compensation from those who should have protected him as a child. The inquiry heard how time and again the statute of limitations was used to deny victims compensation. 

He now says he is dismayed by the Government’s response. “It’s staggering,” said David Harries. “The inquiry heard from thousands of survivors, examined 4.2 million pieces of written evidence. Why would you call for more public consultation rather than act on the recommendations after all the time, money, effort and testimonies that have gone into this inquiry?”  

“The powers that be protected perpetrators not the children that needed protecting. Now it’s time to apologise and give children the protection they deserve. Our childhoods were stolen from us. We will not have them back, but every day these recommendations aren’t put into place children are hurt. There’s not so many survivors left among the participants who stepped forward for change and some form of justice for the unspeakable things that occurred. If the Government doesn’t act on it, then what was the purpose of this inquiry? We need a Prime Minister that will bring these changes in to protect children from predators now.”  

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No Material Support

Bylines Times asked for a comment from the Home Secretary, but instead, we were directed to her statement on establishing a child sexual abuse redress scheme, mandatory reporting and therapeutic support for victims after “victims, survivors and charities representing them will be closely consulted.” On mandatory reporting, it says there will be a “12-week public call for evidence.” 

A statement from Suella Braverman added: “no apology or compensation can turn the clock back on the harrowing abuse these victims suffered, but it is important survivors have that suffering recognised and acknowledged. That is what the compensation scheme will deliver. By bringing in mandatory reporting for adults working with children, we are shining a light on a crime which has for too long been hidden and silent.”

Asked by participants to find out what the Labour Party would do differently, we were directed to the Shadow Home Secretary’s reaction to her counterpart’s statement in parliament. Yvette Cooper told Byline Times: “I am glad that she has accepted the need to act on 19 of the 20 recommendations, but that is not the same as accepting the recommendations or as setting out what action she is actually going to take.” The Shadow Home Secretary said she had been calling for mandatory reporting for a decade and asked why this and a redress scheme should be further delayed and “why the rest of the statement is inadequate as a Government response to such a serious and weighty report?”

This echoed the reaction of lawyers for core participants to the inquiry too. “The IICSA concluding report – the conclusion of such a major piece of work – deserved a higher priority and commitment from the Government,” Allison Millar of Leigh Day told Byline Times. “The independent inquiry took seven years and heard from thousands of witnesses, including all the key stakeholders – why is there a need to consult and call for further evidence to implement crucial recommendations like the introduction of a statutory mandatory reporting duty and a national redress scheme, for which survivors have been waiting so long?”

Nichola Johnston and Dan Couldrey of Kennedys point out that the Government “has not committed any additional financial support towards IICSA’s recommendations and instead, highlights existing schemes and consultations that are underway. Absent the Government committing additional financial support, there is concern that already stretched public authorities will be required to fund the recommendations themselves in circumstances where they are already operating under very tight budgetary constraints. We also note that IICSA proposed that insurers may contribute towards the proposed redress scheme, but the Government’s response does not comment on that point.”

Even the inquiry chair and panel took the unusual step of penning an open letter together in The Times, warning the Government response risked dashing survivors’ hopes and “child sexual abuse will continue to increase unabated”.

“By its response, the Government seems to have failed to understand the recommendations either in substance or significance. Some are deemed to be ‘accepted’ when, in reality, they clearly are not, while others are conditional on yet more research, review or consultation. To none is a timeline attached or a committed action plan. We fear that, for the sake of other political priorities, action will be deferred indefinitely,” the panel said.

The Government response has also been met with criticism from groups who support survivors of child sexual abuse including a group of 64 organisations and individuals that engage and protect children, known as the IICSA Change Makers.

The group said in a joint statement: “It is disappointing that a significant number of the cross-sector recommendations that could have led to real change have been curbed by the Government, which is either narrowing them down or assuming that existing mechanisms already address the need… We need to see a determination from Government to prevent and tackle the ongoing situation where child victims of sexual abuse are left traumatised and adult survivors are left without the appropriate support to rebuild their lives.”

The group also called for the Government to rethink its refusal to enact the inquiry’s recommendation of a Minister for Children who could champion children’s rights in any situation.

This particular recommendation, Sarah Champion told Byline Times, is crucial and the Government response that “this role is already fulfilled through the work of the Secretary of State for Education” is inadequate. 

“The rights of a child need to go across every government department – an Education Minister can’t tell the Justice Department for instance what to do, but a minister responsible for children’s rights could tell the Home Office or any other department what to do when it comes to children’s rights,” explained the Rotherham MP.

“Every day children are being sexually assaulted so all these recommendations to stop that are urgent. There is also an urgency for all those who participated in this inquiry. I know an awful lot of survivors now left hanging who took the time to participate in the inquiry, put a lot of faith in the process, and who urgently need to see the recommendations put into place. These survivors have given us a roadmap of how to prevent child abuse and how to reconcile what has happened to people who have been victims of such abuse – one that the Government can’t ignore.”

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