Britain is to hold an independent inquiry is to investigate the handling by public bodies of allegations of child sex abuse, Home Secretary Theresa May announced.
The announcement in the House of Commons came after British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to leave “no stone unturned” in seeking the truth about widespread allegations of a paedophile ring with links to the establishment in the 1980s.
The inquiry will be given access to all papers it requests, and could be converted into a full public inquiry if its chairman feels it is necessary. It is unlikely to report before next year’s general election.
Like the probe into the Hillsborough football disaster, which reported in 2012, it will be a non-statutory inquiry initially focusing on documentary evidence, but it will have the power to call witnesses, subject to the need to avoid prejudicing any criminal investigations.
Meanwhile, a separate review, led by NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless, will look into an investigation conducted last year into the Home Office’s handling of child abuse allegations made over a 20-year period, as well as the response of police and prosecutors to information which was passed on to them.
Mrs May said that the independent inquiry panel will be made up of experts in the law and child protection, chaired by “an appropriately senior and experienced figure”, with a remit to consider “whether public bodies – and other non-state institutions – have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse”.
She told MPs: “I want to be clear that the inquiry panel will have access to all the government papers, reviews and reports it needs. Subject to the constraints imposed by any criminal investigations, it will be free to call witnesses from organisations in the public sector, private sector and wider civil society.
“And I want to make clear that – if the inquiry panel chairman deems it necessary – the Government is prepared to convert it into a full public inquiry in line with the Inquiries Act.”