This letter was sent to the Home Secretary last week from the Survivors Alliance. who are a group of organisations supporting survivors of abuse, together with supportive professionals. They and many others, are very disturbed by the way the current Inquiry into organised child sexual abuse is being handled by the home office.
28th January, 2015
Rt Hon Theresa May MP
2 Marsham Street
Dear Home Secretary
As you will be aware, the Survivors Alliance has consistently expressed its support for an inquiry into institutional and organised abuse. We have therefore drawn together a wide range of groups, from those working with people with learning disabilities, agencies working with survivors from public schools, care leavers, and individual professionals and survivors. We are all committed to ensuring that survivors are supported to engage safely and effectively with inquiry processes.
However, it has been well documented that the conduct of some members of the panel, including the lack of transparency surrounding their appointment as well as conflicts of interest, have been of grave concern to us for the past few months. Our concerns were confirmed by the leaked documents to the HASC committee on 26th January, which highlighted an astonishing lack of awareness of the impact and dynamics of abuse, as well as demonstrating that some members of the panel and secretariat do not have the appropriate experience or training to be in the positions of responsibility they currently hold.
The release of emails and correspondence constitutes a breach of Data Protection and also a breach of trust. With disregard to who or how the information was leaked, the comments made by Hearn and Evans about us and our agencies demonstrate a lack of knowledge of survivor groups and a degree of arrogance in that we would not appreciate the difference between meeting the secretariat or the panel or understand the nuances of ‘evidence’. These assumptions were made without any contact with us. As we have already commented, meeting at listening events does not constitute consultation with expertise from professionals in the field.
The discussions between Evans and Hearn are evidence of a deeply naïve attitude towards survivors and groups that support them, the structure of which they and the secretariat are clearly unaware of. Additionally, they demonstrate a viewpoint that challenging views ‘should be directly corrected or ignored’. The irony is not lost that Hearn is speaking about prejudice yet made incorrect assumptions about our knowledge, expertise and future plans.
The way the panel members have discussed other survivors, specifically Lucy Duckworth, Fay Maxted, Andi Lavery and Ian McFaddyen is a shameful reflection of their lack of responsibility and knowledge of the issues. It has exposed us as individuals, making us feel vulnerable and having a huge impact on our work and organisations. Evans has implied the impact on her is somehow more significant, without regard for how it affects others. Andi Lavery and his young daughter have been targeted by convicted abuser Nigel Oldfield. Well known figures of the survivor world such as Shy Keenan and Sara Payne have openly and personally criticised us on social media. The tabloids have called for comment with information on our family members and we have received death threats. As individuals- who are also survivors- to experience this without the offer of support or apology from HASC, the secretariat or the Home Office is a shameful reflection of process. It has created divisions among survivors and groups which is an unforgivable consequence of attempts to secure public support for individual panel members without regard for the overall aims of the inquiry.
It is shocking that any panel member should speak in the way Hearn and Evans have, failing to recognise the need for an effective way to give all survivors a voice, no matter how challenging this may be, and clearly with unquestioned support for their actions from Graham Wilmer. All three claim to support and represent survivors, yet failed to recognise the need to put support in place at listening events; and it was only following our request that a minimal degree of support was finally organised for the past two events.
We are deeply disappointed that our concerns have not been addressed despite repeated attempts to raise them in October and again in November. We are disgusted that Hearn seeks to judge and make assumptions without contacting us and openly saying it is best to ignore this request. We demand a written apology from her, accepting she does not have the skills or experience to work with adult survivors of abuse and that she takes further training before working with children or vulnerable adults again. We call for the termination of Barbara Hearn and Sharon Evan’s contract immediately, ensuring all emails and confidential information are no longer in their possession.
Media coverage also reveals that a survivor, ‘Becky’, was approached by two panel members after a listening event, and who subsequently corresponded with them via email ‘being able to tell the truth for the first time’. A petition has been set up, promoted through Exaro News and the Sunday People, which is encouraging people to support the panel and her ‘champion’ Sharon Evans. We would like to know:
- who the panel members were,
- on what authority they approached ‘Becky’,
- what the purpose of the meetings and email correspondence was,
- if ‘evidence’ was taken what investigation was put in place,
- what formal support was offered to ‘Becky’,
- Which safeguarding protocols followed including storage and handling of evidence.
Becky’s report and plea for people to sign her petition, is yet further evidence of inappropriate behaviour by panel members and seeming manipulation of a vulnerable victim who now feels that she has disclosed her story in vain. This is despite assurances from the Secretariat that listening events were not for taking evidence and that the work of the Panel did not include taking evidence at this stage.
The disclosure of confidential email discussions between panel members at the HASC Meeting on Monday, including disclosure of personal contact details, reveals an appalling lack of respect by certain Panel members for survivors, survivor groups and for fellow panel members. It also inhibits free discussion between Panel members, stakeholder groups and individual survivors. Named individuals/survivors have been subjected to social media hate campaigns as a result of the disclosures and negative attitudes expressed by some panel members. This follows a catalogue of failures, initially in establishing the inquiry itself and then followed by the abject failure of the Panel to understand the nature of the work it should be undertaking and the appropriate processes for instituting an inquiry of this nature.
This now leads us to question the position of the other Panel members, who have remained silent and continue to apparently support Evans and Hearn despite their attitude and disregard for survivors and their needs, and the impact this failed start to the Inquiry has had on so many of us. Having said this we are encouraged by Ben Emmerson’s correspondence which demonstrate his professionalism and objectivity.
Unfortunately, it is clear that the independent panel inquiry has now reached a stage where credibility in individual panel members and in the ability of the panel to direct itself appropriately has been lost for a significant number of individuals and organisations, including survivors.
Concerns to date:
– Lack of consultation with experts in the survivor field prior to any direct engagement with survivors or planning of events;
– Appointment of two chairs with inappropriate links to establishment;
– Lack of an open and transparent process in appointing panel members;
– Lack of in-depth briefing for panel members on stakeholder groups;
– Lack of understanding of safeguarding processes and subsequent training to rectify this;
– Inappropriate use of social media and media by Panel members;
– Ill-informed and hastily arranged listening events run without safeguarding protocols in place or support on hand for vulnerable individuals;
– Breaches of safeguarding protocol by panel members;
– Panel member giving misleading information in media interviews about ‘hearing evidence’;
– Misleading and confusing statements issued by the Panel regarding trust in a future Inquiry if the Panel is disbanded;
– Listening events arranged despite concerns being raised about specific Panel members;
– Listening events cancelled at the last minute;
– Agencies who are paid to provide support ‘championing’ panel on social media, discussing their views on the inquiry with the media meaning survivors are not getting independent support
– Lack of transparency over appointment of agencies who are paid to provide support
– Lack of recognition of national service standards and poor consideration for accessibility for those requiring ongoing support from these agencies
– Lack of response from the Panel to concerns raised re the above;
– Divisions and tensions fuelled and exacerbated between individual survivors and groups by calls for support from Panel members for the Panel and for themselves as Panel members.
Finally, we have been informed by the Secretariat to the Panel that the pace of work and the need for listening events to take place was set by the Home Office. This itself questions the independence of the Panel if it has no authority to construct its own work programme.
In order for confidence to be re-established in the Inquiry, we believe it is crucial that the following actions are taken without delay:
a) Panel members who have acted inappropriately need to be dismissed instantly with public apologies made to those affected (Lucy Duckworth, Fay Maxted, Andi Lavery and Ian McFadyen);
b) The statutory basis of the Inquiry should be announced immediately;
c) The Chair of the Inquiry should be announced immediately;
d) Announcement of a full review of the appointment of all Panel members and appointments on an open and transparent basis.
Moving forward, and in order for individual survivors and groups to regain their trust in the Inquiry, we would suggest that the following processes should be announced:
e) Establish expert adviser groups to the Inquiry, specific to institutions where appropriate;
f) A programme of work to be published setting out the Inquiry processes and providing information to survivors and survivor groups about how the work of the Inquiry will be supported;
g) All agencies paid to provide support at listening events to declare their interests and funding contracts
h) Published programme of consultations/roundtables to explore the issues the Inquiry is likely to encounter, for example identification of abuse in institutions; identification of organised abuse; protection for whistleblowers including reference to those bound by the Official Secrets Act; background to specific institutions involved; care and support for survivors giving evidence.
i) A programme of research to support the work of the Inquiry and the Terms of Reference. For example, the Australian Royal Commission has established a comprehensive research programme which includes descriptive research to provide background information, primary research to fill evidence gaps and research summarising the evidence to explore what is known and what works. Eight themes have been identified:
- Causes – Why does child sexual abuse occur in institutions?
- Prevention – How can child sexual abuse in institutions be prevented?
- Identification – How can child sexual abuse be better identified?
- Institutional responses – what is best practice for institutional responses where child sexual abuse has occurred?
- Government response – what is best practice for government and statutory authorities responding to child sexual abuse?
- Treatment and support needs – what are the treatment and support needs of victims/survivors and their families?
- Institutions of interest – what is the history of particular institutions of interest?
- Ensuring a positive impact – how do we ensure the work of the Royal Commission has a positive impact?
j) Only when the above work is well under way, evidence gathering can begin using a range of methods including public and private hearings, email and web chat with transcripts published, where appropriate and with permission, all of which have the option of professional support for witnesses.
k) Full exploration of redress schemes.
l) An early recommendation to government that the bill on mandatory reporting is moved through parliament urgently and that it will be reviewed once the inquiry make further recommendations on the issue.
m) A parallel “truth” arm of the inquiry is established to enable survivors to have their complaints recorded by a body other that existing statutory agencies. This arm of the inquiry would be able to gather information confidentially and would assist the inquiry with high quality empirical evidence. More importantly it would give survivors who have little faith in the existing systems a voice and input in changing the system for the better. If handled well this would address the huge expectation that the inquiry will listen directly to a large number of survivors.
We have been impressed by the statements you have made as Home Secretary regarding your commitment to the Inquiry going ahead. Furthermore, the substantial funding announced for support groups is a welcome response to the increased demands these agencies are experiencing as a result of the announcement of the Inquiry.
We request an urgent meeting with yourself, Ben Emmerson and Angela Kyle to discuss the content of this letter and agree a way forward.
We also request you see this letter as an official complaint and as such provide a direct response to each point raised.
We believe that the above actions will secure widespread support for the Inquiry and trust that we will be able to work supportively with the Secretariat, the new Chair and newly formulated Panel/expert advisers to ensure the Inquiry achieves its aims.
Fay Maxted: CEO Survivors Trust, Co-chair Survivors Alliance, Survivor
Lucy Duckworth: Chair; MACSAS (Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors) Co-chair, Survivors Alliance, Clerical abuse survivor
Andi Lavery: Fort Augustus Survivor, Campaigner
Ian McFadyen: Caldicott Survivor, Campaigner
Peter McKelvie : Survivor, RTD child protection manager & whistleblower
Dr Liz Davies : Chair White Flowers Campaign, Child protection expert & whistleblower
Brian Douieb : Survivor, Fmr Care Leaving Manager
Nigel O’Mara: Survivor Advocate
Alan Draper: Survivor, Academic RTD Director Social Work, INCAS Lead
Phil Frampton:Chair Care Leavers Assoc. Survivor Campaigner / advocate
Andy Kershaw: Chair Forde Park Survivors, campaigner
Chris Tuck: Survivor Campaigner
Sean O’Donovan: Fort Augustus survivor
Islington Survivors: Richard Murphy
Phil Johnson: Eastbourne Survivors
James McDermott: Disabled survivor Catholic Church
David Greenwood: Solicitor, Chair Stop Church Abuse, ACAL
Charlotte Russell: Researcher, relative of survivor