There’s an old joke about an English tourist in Ireland who asks one of the locals for directions to Dublin. The Irishman unhelpfully replies: ‘Well sir, if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here’, and it is tempting, looking at how the troubled child abuse inquiry can move forward, to give a similarly non-constructive reply because most of the problems facing inquiry chair Pof Alexis Jay are inherited and she’s not starting from a good place. The IICSA relationship with the media, the primary source of information for the survivors the child abuse inquiry is attempting to help and who the inquiry needs on board if it is to be successful, is at best non-existent, at worst terrible. Sure, there may have been a few vocal survivors and influential survivor groups that have been kept in the loop but tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of survivors across the country are no less invested in the inquiry’s outcome and are no less in need of reassurance that the IICSA is progressing well and the media is the only way reach them and reassure them.
I would suggest that Prof Jay draft three new panel members. The first, an experienced and respected journalist. I’m not going to suggest a anyone in particular but such a person could bring a great deal to the IICSA. Not only a slightly different way of investigating but also an understanding of how the media work. It should be noted that the very successful Hillsborough inquiry had the former ITN and BBC journalist Peter Sissons. Not only would someone like that bring a wealth of insightful experience it would also reassure the media. Nobody would suggest that confidential information should be routinely leaked to the press but it is essential that there is a good relationship between the media and the inquiry and appointing someone like Peter Sissons is a good start.
I’d also recommend appointing a retired police officer to the panel. I’ve suggested before that former head of CEOP Jim Gamble would be an ideal choice, not only would someone like that bring valuable experience, an investigative background, it would also reassure the police who would know that someone on the panel understood what might compromise ongoing investigations. However astonishingly, the former head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre hasn’t even been asked to meet the IICSA.
The third panel member I’d like to see is an archivist. The Hillsborough inquiry had two, the ICSA has none.
The panel that Dame Goddard appointed was lawyer heavy. With Emmerson always influential and powerful and Goddard the chair, four of the six main players were lawyers. I’ve nothing against lawyers, that kind of experience is very valuable but ignoring the experience and investigative skills of other occupations always left the panel unbalanced.
I hope that Prof Alexis Jay will seize this opportunity to make the IICSA inquiry her own and at the same time bring balance to the Inquiry panel . If you were a football manager you wouldn’t pick a team with 11 strikers, so why have a panel with so many lawyers ?