Dame Lowell Goddard is naive to think she can establish the truth of 40-year-old child abuse allegations. And it isn’t her job.
Dame Lowell Goddard seems determined to push ahead with her misguided inquiry into whether allegations of child sexual abuse against the late Lord Janner of Braunstone QC are ‘well founded’.
As its terms of reference make clear, the purpose of her inquiry is to consider the extent to which institutions have failed in their duty to protect children from sexual abuse in the past and to identify action needed to protect children in the future.
Under the Inquiries Act 2005, she must not ‘determine any person’s civil or criminal liability’ – although an inquiry panel ‘is not to be inhibited… by any likelihood of liability being inferred from facts that it determines or recommendations that it makes’.
Goddard’s terms of reference say that the ban on deciding liability ‘should not… inhibit the inquiry from reaching findings of fact relevant to its terms of reference’. That is not quite the same.
And in her opening statement last year, Goddard claimed that ‘the naming of people that have been responsible for the sexual abuse of children… is a core aspect of the inquiry’s function’. That seems pretty close to breaking the ban on deciding liability.
Several commentators have pointed out that Goddard does not need to decide whether the allegations against Janner were justified in order to find out if the authorities concerned had failed in their duty of care. In response, she insisted on the need ‘to examine the conduct of individuals to determine the extent of any institutional failures’.
This, of course, misses the point. The individuals she should be investigating are those responsible for children’s homes – and people who manipulated them, such as Jimmy Savile. But the only individual who is singled out for one of Goddard’s 13 named investigations is Janner.
Perhaps frustrated by the Janner family’s entirely understandable decision to take no part in the inquiry, Goddard made a formal request for information to the solicitors acting for his estate. In a 29-page response, Michael Pether, from the insurance specialists BLM, told Goddard her inquiry was ‘akin to prosecuting a dead man’.
What Janner’s children knew of their father’s professional and personal life totally contradicted the allegations against him, Pether said. They unequivocally believed that the allegations were false.
There was also a risk that Goddard’s findings of fact might prejudice civil claims against the estate, Pether said. Many, if not all, of the complainants were seeking damages; although no claims had been received until last summer, when Janner’s dementia was so severe that he could no longer respond.
Goddard had asked for information that could undermine the allegations against Janner. Pether reminded her that child abuse in Leicester, where Janner was an MP, had been investigated by Leicestershire police. They had questioned 400 people to build a case against Frank Beck, who was given five life sentences in November 1991 for sexual assaults on children in his care. As the former deputy chief constable recently confirmed, nobody had mentioned Janner’s name to the police or social services until Beck shouted it out in court. Beck later died in prison.
Pether claims that Janner was framed by Beck and another man, who is still alive. Shortly after Beck’s conviction, Janner told his fellow MPs that Beck and the other man had colluded to make ‘make disgraceful, contemptible and totally untrue allegations of criminal conduct’ against him.
Janner named the man at the time. He was also named last year, perhaps unwittingly, by the Daily Mail. But because he says that he was the victim of a sexual assault, I am not allowed to identify him. He is referred to by the Goddard inquiry as witness A31 and by Sir Richard Henriques, in a report to the DPP earlier this year, as complainant 1.
Janner said in parliament that he and his family had tried to help complainant 1 in the mid-1970s, when he was a deprived youngster living in a Leicestershire children’s home. Pether told Goddard that Janner’s family saw this ‘as a continuation of his track record of outstanding and admirable, possibly naive, hospitality, befriending and endless generosity’.
It was certainly naive – although nobody would have thought so at the time. But was the young man telling the truth when he said Janner had sexually assaulted him?
This is an area where conspiracy theories abound. Goddard asks: ‘Was the omission of any mention of Lord Janner in the Kirkwood report’ on Leicestershire children’s homes appropriate? In fact, Janner was named by Andrew Kirkwood QC in his list of witnesses.
It was not Kirkwood’s job to decide whether the allegations against Janner were true. Neither is it Goddard’s. And yet she thinks she can establish what happened more than 40 years ago, without the benefit of cross-examination or evidence from the man accused. Who’s being naive now?