Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Soper trial postponed

At a plea & case management hearing last month, Laurence Soper's trial was postponed to 2nd October.

(Note: I will not publish any comments speculating as to the reason for the delay or speculating about any other aspect of the case.)

Sunday, 1 January 2017

The IICSA Review

There's been a fair bit of comment about Professor Jay's long-awaited review. Some wildly varying conclusions have been reached about it, from the Times & Guardian concluding that the inquiry is to be severely pruned to others saying that nothing much has changed.

It seems to me that lots of people are reading into the review what they want to see, and are able to do so because the review doesn't actually say very much.

The review is 37 heavily padded pages. Nine pages are taken up with the front and back covers, table of contents and the divider pages starting each chapter. There is a two-page forward from the chair which contains no actual information about the review. There is a page of background which re-iterates the inquiry's terms of reference (which the chair has no power to amend), So the review only has 25 pages with any content that might be new.

Annex A is titled "Investigation Update". This is not a review, it's a progress report on the various investigations, and runs to eight pages. This is what ought to have been in the progress report published on 31 October, where the descriptions of progress amounted to a page and a half.

So we are down to 17 pages of potential review content out of 37 pages of the document purporting to be a review.

We have two pages of a schedule chart. This really is progress report material again, not review material. We're down to 15 pages of review.

Then there is three pages describing the research programme for the next two years. The review contains nothing describing why these specific topics have been chosen, which one might reasonably expect from a review document. So let's count this as progress report material as well. We're down to 12 pages.

Next we have six pages describing the inquiry's seminar programme for the next year or two. It contains nothing again about why a statutory inquiry holding institutions to account for failing to protect children needs such an extensive seminar programme. Also the seminar programme contains nothing describing why these specific seminars were chosen and in what way it is hoped that this will help inform the inquiry's conclusions about how to prevent institutions from failing children in future.

So of the 37 pages of the document we are down to six pages actually describing the review. Did Professor Jay really expect that nobody would notice the incredible amount of padding? The typeface of the text is fairly large, so the six pages only contain just over 2000 words. Professor Jay took over as chair on 11 August and announced on 6 September that she had already started a wide-ranging internal review. So depending on when the review actually started, the review has taken 2-3 months, and the wordcount of the outcome is about that of a student's A-level English essay. This doesn't bode well for the future productivity of the inquiry.

So let's look at the review chapter paragraph by paragraph. It starts with its conclusions. (I would have thought it would have ended with its conclusions, but there you go.)
  1. That the strategic approach of the Inquiry, delivering through three major strands of work - public hearings, research and analysis, and the Truth Project - is right but that  their implementation of this approach has been too slow.
  2. That the Inquiry has done valuable work to date in a number of areas but must demonstrate this more clearly.
  3. That the Inquiry needs rebalancing to ensure sufficient attention is paid to making recommendations for the future.
  4. That the Inquiry’s commitment to exposing past failures of institutions to protect  children from sexual abuse should remain unchanged.
  5. That the Inquiry needs to publish a regular timetable of its activity starting with 2017/18.
  6. That the governance of the Inquiry needs revising to provide stronger accountability and oversight of the programme of work.
  7. That those with an interest in the Inquiry’s work should have more opportunity to  engage with it.
  8. That the Inquiry’s relationship with victims, survivors and others should be kept under constant review.
Conclusion 1 suggests measures should be taken to speed things up in future. One would hope that specific measures will be named that are designed to achieve this. We'll see.

Conclusion 2 suggests measures should be taken to improve communication in future. Conclusion 5 is one measure being proposed to implement Conclusion 2.

Conclusions 3 and 4 basically contradict each other. Conclusion 3 suggests that too little attention has been given to making future recommendations, and by implication suggests that too much attention has been given to exposing past failures of institution. But Conclusion 4 states that the "commitment to exposing past failures of institution" should remain unchanged. No wonder different people are reading whatever they want into the report.

Conclsion 6 is to do with Governance. In other words, Jay is doing what a senior manager almost always does on taking up a new post - she is doing a reorganisation. I've participated in enough reorganisations to know that they rarely achieve much.

Conclusions 7 is perfectly fine, but largely irrelevant. If the inquiry fails to deliver a coherent report, they are hardly going to be able to say "but our engagement was excellent", and if they try, then the response will be "that wasn't your job".

Conclusion 8 should be so obvious it shouldn't have needed to be said. It's only had to be said because the inquiry's relationship with survivors has become so rocky that some groups are withdrawing from participation.

The review then goes on to describe its detailed findings with regard to public hearings. It states:

The review has considered in detail each of the Inquiry’s existing investigations, to make sure that they remain fit for purpose and can be delivered in an appropriate timeframe. The Inquiry remains committed to pursuing each of these, as they play an important part in its task of examining institutional failure. We are refining the methodology for each investigation and will use a range of techniques to ensure they remain focused and deliverable. These include the use of statutory powers to obtain relevant evidence, reviews of official records, case studies, public hearings, primary research, issues papers and seminars, as appropriate.
This is the paragraph which I suspect many are interpreting as a watering-down of the public hearings aspect of the inquiry. The description of the Public Hearings Project on the IICSA website is as follows.
The Public Hearings Project resembles a conventional public inquiry, where witnesses give evidence on oath and are subject to cross examination. The Inquiry is selecting case studies from a range of institutions that appear to illustrate a pattern of institutional failings. Each hearing will last for around six weeks. A hearing may relate to a particular individual who appears to have been enabled to sexually abuse children in institutional settings. Or it may relate to an institution that appears to have demonstrated repeated failings over a number of years. Evidence is likely to be taken from both representatives of the institutions under investigation, and from victims and survivors of sexual abuse. The Inquiry does not have the power to convict abusers of criminal offences or to award compensation to victims and survivors. However, it will use its fact-finding powers fully to make findings against named individuals or institutions where the evidence justifies it.
It is clear from this description that the primary purpose of the Public Hearings Project is actually to hold public hearings in order to extract evidence under oath from sometimes unwilling individuals and institutions. On the other hand the Research Project is described as follows.
The Research and Analysis Project is one of the three core parts of the Inquiry, working alongside the Truth Project and the Public Hearings Project. The Research and Analysis Project works across all the Inquiry’s 13 investigations.

The Research and Analysis Project brings together in one place what is already known about child sexual abuse and finds out the gaps in our knowledge. It carries out new research. Including analysing  the information that the Inquiry receives through the Truth Project. The Research and Analysis Project also quality assures internal Inquiry data so that its use can be defended.
But it now seems that there is little distinction to be made between the Public Hearings project and the Research project, since the former will now include "reviews of official records, case studies, public hearings, primary research, issues papers and seminars". All but the actual public hearings themselves fall squarely within the description of the Research project.

Now it isn't necessarily a bad thing that the inquiry wants to make as much use as possible of existing written records and research. I would class it as a thoroughly good thing if it helps to enable the inquiry to ask the right questions of the right people during the public hearings. What worries me from these descriptions is that it is really quite unclear what they are trying to achieve here. It obviously isn't clear, otherwise others would have come to a common understanding of the meaning, and they haven't.

Therefore either it's not clear either because the panel themselves aren't clear about what they are trying to achieve, or they aren't communicating it effectively. The second would mean they are making a very bad start to actions concerning Conclusion 2. The first is even more worrying, in that it suggests they aren't sure what they are trying to achieve or how to achieve it.

The review then goes on to describe how it "will accelerate the progress of public hearings" and will "hold four public hearings during 2017". The schedule suggested is as follows
  • In February, the first part of the child migration programmes case study in the Children Outside the UK investigation will be held. This will hear evidence from experts and  others to provide an overview of the child migration programmes;
  • In July, the second part of the child migration programmes case study will be heard.  This hearing will cover evidence on behalf of key institutions based in England and  Wales which were responsible for sending children overseas as part of the migration  programmes;
  • In October, a hearing in relation to the Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale  investigation; and
  • In December, a hearing in relation to the English Benedictine Congregation case study in the child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church investigation.
There's just one problem with this. It isn't an acceleration.

The preliminary hearing for the Children Outside the UK investigation held on 28 July last year gave precisely this schedule: an initial hearing in February and further hearing at an unspecified date, both hearings to run for approximately two weeks. The duration of the hearings is not stated in the review.

The Cambridge House, Knowl View and Rochdale investigation held a preliminary hearing on 27 July, at which it was stated that it was anticipated that the hearings for this investigation would follow on as soon as possible after the hearings for the Janner investigation, and that there would be a further hearing towards the end of 2016 in order to fix those dates more firmly. (That hearing never happened.) In addition the it was stated that the "best estimate at present is that it ought to be possible to inform core participants of a realistic estimated start date by the end of October of this year". That date appears to have been missed, the schedule being published as part of the review in December. In any case, there is no evidence of an acceleration of the schedule.

The Roman Catholic Church investigation held a preliminary hearing on 28 July. Scheduling was discussed there also. Tt was indicated "that there will be a further preliminary hearing in this investigation in the later part of the year". That hearing never happened. The following information was given out by Mr Emmerson as to when main hearings would occur.
"Madam, as I indicated during the course of submissions, it is unfortunately far too early at this stage in this investigation for us to be in a position to indicate what the date is likely to be. What I can indicate is that it will not be this year [2016] and that the Inquiry's diary for hearings is now full for the first half of next year, and possibly into the beginning of the second half of next year, with other hearings.  So if that provides some assistance, it won't be before the second half of next year."
The hearings are schedules for December 2017, so only just within the second half of 2017. This is also not an acceleration as compared to information previously available.

So, 2017 has a sum total of about eight weeks of scheduled public hearings, assuming each of the four hearings is about two weeks. (The two child migration programme hearings have already been indicated to be two weeks each, and the Roman Catholic Church hearing can't possibly be much longer if it is going to fit into December before Christmas.)

But this is not the full story. On 26 July there was a preliminary hearing on the Lord Janner investigation, at which it was stated this it was "the Inquiry's intention to start hearings in September of this year and to conclude within six months of commencement". The hearings didn't start in September, and on 16 November IICSA announced:
The Chair, Professor Alexis Jay, has decided to postpone the start date of 7 March 2017 for the oral hearing for the investigation concerning institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse involving the late Lord Janner of Braunstone QC.  The preliminary hearing due to take place before 31 January will also be postponed.
The reason given was the possible overlap between the inquiry hearings and ongoing criminal an disciplinary hearings. No new starting date has been given. This should have opened up a significant gap in the diary into which other hearings could have been placed if an accelerated schedule was being pursued. But nothing has been moved forward.

The Anglican Church investigation has had two preliminary hearings, at neither of which has any timetable been given for the scheduling of the substantive hearings. The review has mad no change here, except in as far as we know that nothing is scheduled for any time in 2017.

Precisely the same applies to the Lambeth Council investigation. Two preliminary hearings have been held, no scheduling information regarding substantive hearings has been given.

The Accountability and Reparations investigation held a preliminary hearing on 29 July at which it was stated that it is "far too early to be contemplating hearing dates at this stage". As for the seminars it was stated "We hope to be in a position to hold the first of these expert seminars in or around late November, with others following in the early part of 2017." The first was held in late November, and a further preliminary hearing will be held in March 2017 with a view to public hearings on five case studies sometime in 2018. A further seminar on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority will be held in February 2017. So the best we can say here that the existing schedule is being maintained.

A number of investigations have as yet had no public hearings, even preliminary ones. These are:
  • Child sexual exploitation by organised networks (no hearings currently scheduled)
  • Children in custodial institutions (no hearings currently scheduled)
  • The Internet (core participant applications to open in mid 2017 and first "introductory" hearings in early 2018)
  • Children in the care of Nottinghamshire Councils (core participant applications to open in March 2017 and first preliminary hearing at an unspecified date thereafter)
  • Child sexual abuse in residential schools (no hearings currently scheduled)
  • Allegations of child sexual abuse linked to Westminster (core participant applications to open in 3rd quarter of 2017 and first preliminary hearing at an unspecified date thereafter)
This cannot by any reasonable criteria be described as an accelerated schedule of public hearings.

Let's compare this with the Australian Child Abuse Royal Commission. This was called into being on 11th January 2013. It held its first public hearing on its first case study on 16-19 September 2013 and the report of its findings was issued in March 2014. In total there have so far been 240 days of hearings on 49 case studies, and a further 7 case studies will start hearings between January and March 2017. Had the IICSA progressed at the same rate since its formation on 12 March 2015 as a statutory inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, we would have had 102 days of public hearings on 19 case studies by now. Instead, we have had no public hearings at all so far and by the end of next year we expect to have had approximately 40 days of public hearings.

So the inquiry is promising but not delivering an accelerated programme of hearings, and it seems to be getting seriously mixed up between what is the research project and the public hearings project.

Yes, the inquiry is complex. Yes I'm sure a lot of documents need to be gone through. Yes, Britain has more people than Australia and so there are potentially more institutions and abuse victims to look at. But these don't alone justify such a stark difference in productivity.

I wish I could see some prospect of an improvement, but I don't. On present showing, this inquiry is going to take forever.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Soper 2nd hearing

Soper's case has been transferred to the Central Criminal Court. There was a plea and case management hearing on 25th November.

He has been charged with two counts of buggery, one of gross indecency and six of indecent assault.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. A provisional trial date has been set for 13th February.

Monday, 21 November 2016

The secrecy of the IICSA and the damage it has caused

Back in November 2014 I wrote an article for the Guardian. "The child abuse inquiry needs to start again with transparency and trust". The first two paragraphs said this.
Trust. That’s the issue. Child abuse survivors, particularly those abused in institutional settings, are often highly mistrustful and obsessively motivated. It’s hard for those not abused in childhood to understand how devastating it is to be so thoroughly betrayed by the very adults and authorities on whom you depend for your care, and how profoundly that affects your ability to trust anybody in later life.

The home secretary Theresa May’s conduct in setting up the inquiry falls far short of building the trust necessary to gain the confidence of these extremely and justifiably mistrustful people. It is clear from her statement in parliament on Monday that she isn’t close to understanding how much transparency is really needed.
The most important point I made at the time was that the inquiry needed to be put on a full statutory footing with the power to take testimony under oath and to compel the production of documents.

At that stage, the inquiry in its non-statutory form was manifestly unfit for purpose because it had no powers to get any information out of anybody who didn't want to co-operate.

Moreoever we had just lost two chairs. Baroness Butler Sloss resigned the day after it was revealed that she had suppressed the name of an abusive (and since convicted) bishop from a report she had prepared into abuse in the Church of England. Fiona Woolf was a inexplicable selection, a commercial solicitor who specialised in electricity deregulation. How that qualified her to run a child abuse inquiry was and remains a mystery to me.

But after that, some things did improve. Theresa May decided to restart the inquiry as a full statutory inquiry, and a much more comprehensive process of due diligence went into the selection of the third chair, New Zealand judge Lowell Goddard. On the face of it she seemed a much more fitting choice. That it didn't work out and that she resigned this summer doesn't mean that the choice was originally a bad one, that the process for choosing her was flawed or that her subsequent resignation could reasonably have been predicted. Sometimes good decisions turn out badly.

But I think lack of transparency is still a major problem. Since it was set up, the IICSA has produced just one progress report. It is 15 pages of PowerPoint-style layout. Only a page and a half (less than 500 words) actually includes any description of progress. It amounts to half a page on each of pages 12, 13 and 15. The foreword from the Chair and the introduction from the Secretary between them are longer than that.

500 words describing 18 months of progress is really not enough. It is quite frankly an insult to the intelligence of the public and especially survivors. I can understand that it takes a while to get an inquiry to the point where public hearings can take place. It is a far more complex undertaking than an individual criminal trial. For instance Laurence Soper (former Abbot of Ealing) was arrested in August this year on suspicion of child abuse, and his trial probably will not start until February or so. That's the trial of one man. Looking into the alleged failings of multiple institutions is more complex and takes more preparation. People will get that if you explain it and regularly describe how far you've got.

I don't expect a running commentary on what evidence is being looked at prior to the public hearings. I don't expect the anonymity of complainants to be breached. But surely can't be hard to produce a regular update (fortnightly or so) describing what has been achieved and what is the schedule for the next events, and stating what has caused the change where the schedule is changing.

Because this sort of information has not been released, there is a widespread perception that absolutely nothing has happened in the last 18 months, that all the money spent has been wasted and that we will have to start again from scratch with the new chair. This plays into the hands of those who think the inquiry should never have been started and should be stopped. The publicity that such people whip up deepens the despair of those survivors who wonder if they will ever be heard, and deepens the cynicism of a minority of survivors who see this as the establishment scheming to find ways of protecting itself. It was all so avoidable just by being serious about transparency and letting people know on a regular basis what progress is being made.

The perception further exists that having achieved nothing in 18 months, the inquiry is going to be hard-pressed to complete 13 investigations, whatever additional investigations will also be needed but not yet scheduled, reach its conclusion and write its report within the remaining three and a half years of the original five year estimated timescale.

The perception that it will take longer the the original 5-year estimate may well be true. The inquiry has not released any schedule so we don't know what they think about it. The precedent of the delays to the Chilcot inquiry is not encouraging. People fear that Professor Jay's promised but as yet unpublished review will cut down the scope of the public hearings in order to stick to the schedule, and instead encourage more papers-only reviews and more people to go to the Truth Project instead.

I think that would be a mistake. There are things that can be done to speed up the process without sacrificing public hearings. It is my understanding that Goddard intended chairing every public hearing for all five "strands" of the inquiry. As a result, all the hearings would have had to be conducted consecutively. Given the amount of evidence that will need to be heard, that seems unwieldy. Instead, we could have multiple public hearings going on in parallel. Each investigation could have its own panel member chairing it, its own lead counsel asking the questions, its own legal and secretariat team supporting it. The panel members would meet regularly to swap experiences (and would of course read the transcripts of each other's hearings).

The panel should also point out that its terms of reference don't require it to investigate every institution that ever failed children. For instance we don't need to look in detail at the failings of every local authority social services department. It should be enough look at a sample sufficient to detect patterns of failure that are likely to be replicated nationwide, and to make recommendations for change accordingly. Similarly, for example it's probably not necessary to look in detail at every parish of the Roman Catholic Church. They inquiry is currently scheduled to look at the English Benedictine Congregation (who run a number of schools) and the diocese of Birmingham (where several abuses are known to have happened). It is likely that we will learn enough about the failings of the Catholic Church from those two investigations to be able to make recommendations that are applicable to the church in general. A combination of parallel hearings and wise choices concerning which institutions to investigate in detail should keep progress moving while not sacrificing thoroughness.

Parallel hearings would not necessarily be simple to achieve. Parallel hearings means evidence needs to be collated more quickly, lines of inquiry decided on sooner, more buildings and rooms found in which the hearings can be conducted (including facilities for press and witnesses). The panel members recently mentioned in evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee the problems they have been having finding suitable premises for hearings.

The panel's recent appearance before the HASC was rather a car-crash. Just about every question met with a what appeared to be a pretty belligerent intention to provide little or no answer. That's not the way to win friends and influence people, in Parliament or outside. While the work can proceed in the absence of friends, it's a whole lot easier with them. Quite frankly the HASC members mostly aren't lawyers, they were asking fairly soft questions and could easily have been treated with more friendliness. That they weren't suggests that the inquiry has acquired a siege mentality where the press and parliament and even the public are regarded as enemies trying to break down the gates. If true, that has to be changed and quickly.

When the inquiry has been asked for comment on various issues, it has usually not been the Chair or any of the other panel members who have come forward. It has been members of the Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel, most frequently Peter Saunders, Lucy Duckworth or Chris Tuck.

There are a number of serious problems with this policy. First, speaking to the media on behalf of the inquiry is not within the VSCP's terms of reference (unless they have been secretly changed, which itself would be a most nontransparent thing to do).

Second, the VSCP members are (according to the terms of reference) supposed to "bring a representative cross­-section of experience and opinion to the Inquiry's work". In other words they are supposed to be representing survivors to the inquiry, not the inquiry to the survivors. I get the impression that neither the inquiry panel members nor the VSCP members realise how damaging it is to the reputations both of the VSCP and the inquiry as a whole for the VSCP members to be straying from their role in this way. In a particularly bad example, on the Victoria Derbyshire programme Peter Saunders got into a quite unseemly row with Raymond Stevenson of the Shirley Oaks Survivors' Association. It took the fallout from that and the sense that the story might be careering out of control for Dru Sharpling of the panel itself to give interviews later that day.

The third problem with VSCP members being the public face of the inquiry is that they are quite peripheral to the inquiry's operations. They will take no part in any investigations and are in no position to say what progress is being made or to say whether or to what extent this or that event or resignation will affect the inquiry as a whole. There are plenty of people in the press and among the survivors who realise this, and every time VSCP members appear in the press the more trust in the inquiry drains away, because press and survivors know that the people who do have the answers are keeping quiet.

There appear also to be some significant oddities about the way the inquiry was set up. According to the Inquiry Rules 2006, the only people appointed to the inquiry by the sponsoring minister (in this case the Home Secretary) are the chair and other panel members. The other senior posts, including the Secretary, Counsel and Solicitor to the inquiry are for the chair to appoint. And yet all three posts were appointed before Goddard, and it would appear the Home Office didn't make it clear that they were in fact people she had the power to appoint rather than the Home Office.

Goddard in her statement to the Home Affairs Select Committee alluded to the frustrations of not being able to start fresh with her own team. The IICSA has claimed that only a small proportion of the inquiry secretariat has been drawn from Home Office civil servants, but to the best of my knowledge they are predominantly in senior positions, including John O'Brien, who is Secretary to the Inquiry.

I don't know and have never met John O'Brien. What I do know is that the Home Office is a notoriously secretive department, and that secretiveness contributed to the early missteps which I described in my Guardian article. This secretiveness is the opposite of what is needed in order to reassure the survivors who have been let down so many times that they are justifiably very mistrustful. It is a secretiveness the inquiry seems to have inherited and it is doing huge damage.

So here is my plea to Professor Jay:
  • Start producing frequent and regular progress updates so as to reassure survivors and others that progress is being made.
  • Don't cut down on public hearings, run them in parallel and delegate them to your fellow panel members in order to make faster progress.
  • Keep VSCP members away from the press and have panel members more frequently available for interview.
  • Be friendly to the Home Affairs Select Committee
  • Think of ways of increasing transparency wherever possible in everything you do.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Soper hearing

There was a brief hearing today at Isleworth Crown Court. No plea was entered and the case was adjourned until 28th November for a plea and case management hearing.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Core participant

Earlier this year I applied for core participant status in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, specifically for the investigation "Child Sexual Abuse in the Roman Catholic Church". My initial application was provisionally rejected, but I re-applied, and my renewed application was addressed at the inquiry's preliminary hearing on July 28.

One of the criteria for core participant status is if "the person may be subject to explicit or significant criticism during the inquiry proceedings or in the report, or in any interim report." Ealing Abbey & St Benedict's School are of course both core participants, they conceivably might come in for quite a bit of criticism. But I was able also to demonstrate that I should be a core particpant on this point (among others.) I put before the inquiry the headmaster's prizegiving day speech in September 2011 which contained the following passage.
I absolutely refute that anyone associated with St Benedict’s School has misled the Inspectors or protected offenders - such allegations are at best misguided and at worst deliberately malicious. Recent media and blog coverage seem hell-bent on trying to discredit the School and, at the same time, destroy the excellent relationship between School and Monastery. Is this part of an anti-Catholic movement linked to the papal visit? I do not know, but it feels very much as if we are being targeted.
In the chair's determination, this was stated as one of the grounds on which my core participant status was granted.

By the way, a little earlier in Cleugh's speech, he praised the monks.
Could any of you here tonight imagine the School without the spiritual and pastoral guidance of Fr Thomas, Fr Alexander here and Fr Andrew in the Junior School? And so it has been with generations of Priorians before you - Fr Bernard, Fr George and Fr Kevin to name but a few.
The mention of Fr Kevin was perhaps a little unfortunate. A school building had been named after Fr Kevin Horsey, who died in 2006. It subsequently emerged that he had abused, and the building was renamed.

Soper in court

Soper appeared at Ealing Magistrates Court yesterday to hear the charges against him. Nine charges relating to five different  children. The charges include buggery, gross indecency and indecent assault. He has been remanded in custody until 19 September when he will appear at Isleworth Crown Court.

(NOTE: Just a reminder to those commenting. I won't publish any comments which speculate as to Soper's guilt or innocence. That's for the courts to decide and I don't want anything done that would interfere with the workings of justice.)