The inquiry into child abuse is much bigger than one person, but Dame Lowell Goddard’s approach means she will be a hard act to follow.
On hearing that Dame Lowell Goddard had quit as chair of the inquiry into institutional child abuse, I emailed respected child abuse lawyer Peter Garsden.
I wasn’t happy that the narrative the media had around the resignation provided satisfactory answers to events.
It might be awkward for the prime minister, Goddard being her third attempt to appoint a chair while home secretary. Stories about lengthy periods spent in her native New Zealand were embarrassing for Goddard.
News of spiralling costs gave critics and grumps everywhere one of those ‘painting by numbers’ opportunities to have a pop at lawyers and the government.
Garsden’s plea is to think first of the position of the victims of child abuse, and when that advice is followed it’s hard not to conclude this was a very bad day.
This is because Goddard inspired the confidence of many victims and their lawyers. As Garsden pointed out last night on his Abuselaw blog: ‘Judge Goddard seemed to have integrity, firmness, planning ability, empathy but not sympathy, [and] patience but determination.’
In short, Goddard is a hard act to follow.
Garsden says that the impact of yesterday’s news on victims should not be underestimated. It’s true that not everything goes with Goddard – she put the inquiry on a statutory footing, which was significant.
But without a visible leader, Garsden advises, those of ‘a suspicious, or perhaps perceptive nature would argue that the inquiry has been set up to fail so as to protect those in positions of power’. A quick replacement is required to ‘ensure continuation with the same energy’, he says.
He’s right. And having so swiftly accepted her resignation, home secretary Amber Rudd should treat the appointment of a credible successor as urgent. This was never ‘the Goddard Inquiry’ – it is much, much bigger than that.
But its form bears Goddard’s imprint in very positive ways. If victims of child abuse are to remain front of mind, then Rudd must act decisively, and visibly, to protect that imprint.
Eduardo Reyes is Gazette features editor