Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Whether It's Paedophile Politicians Or Priests Justice Goddard Must Not Bow To Power

In the middle of a Dublin street I got a phone call. Sky news were doing a package on Paedophilia and wanted me to provide an expert perspective. What with the traffic noise and being out with my 8 year old, it wasn’t a good time. Isn’t there a quiet building you can duck into for the interview, my husband suggested. I was standing in front of a church called, “Our Lady of Dolours”, which means pain in Spanish. “Not really,” I said.

It’s only a few months since Spotlight was released in cinemas throughout the country. It tracks the work of the investigative journalism team set up at the Boston Globe to expose paedophile priests. The establishment closed ranks, emboldened by the inoculation against justice that power affords.  Undeterred, the Boston Globe pursued truth with the same determination with which the church sought to obscure it.

With investigative journalism all but extinct, UK survivors of abuse are pinning their hopes on Justice Goddard’s inquiry into child sex abuse.  They are relying on her to fulfil her brief to investigate child sex abuse, in all areas of the establishment. The winding down of police investigations into the Westminster VIP paedophile ring, with no convictions, was a blow to survivors. One witness, “Darren”, who said he believed a 15 year old girl was killed at a paedophile orgy in Dolphin Square in the 1990s, was allegedly reported by police to social services as being a danger to his baby. Fortunately, social services found the claims to be unsubstantiated.

When Ben Fellows accused Kenneth Clark of groping him at 18 when he was acting undercover for ITV’s Cook report, he feared for his safety. Instead of being treated as a victim by the police, he was accused of perverting the course of justice. It was he, not the accused, who stood trial. Despite widespread media coverage prior to the trial portraying Fellows as a, “fantasist”, when the jury acquitted him, the media was conspicuous in its silence.

In stark contrast, when charges against high profile figures are dropped due to lack of evidence, the words, “acquitted” and “exonerated” are regularly and speciously used in headlines. One can only be exculpated by standing trial.

Some survivors have expressed misgivings about the pressure being brought to bear on Justice Goddard by lawyers representing the myriad of institutions accused of exposing children to abuse by powerful politicians.

Nigel O’Mara was recently rejected by Goddard to be a “core participant” in her inquiry into alleged abuses by Lord Greville Janner, the late Labour peer, and Sir Cyril Smith, the late Liberal MP. In 1992 Mr O’Mara co-founded a helpline for survivors of sexual abuse and claims to have received a number of calls from young men alleging that they had been sexually abused as children, while in care, by Janner and Smith. He said the reports were sent to Kenneth Clarke, then home secretary, in 1992 and 1993 but that no response was forthcoming.

David Enright, Mr O’Mara’s solicitor, said: “When we appeared in the High Court before Lady Justice Goddard on behalf of Mr O’Mara the court was overflowing with lawyers and barristers representing every institution and organisation alleged to have failed to protect children from sexual abuse by these powerful politicians.
“All of those institutions have full participation in this judicial inquiry and will have the opportunity to see the evidence and influence the inquiry. 
“A key survivor witness will not.”

If Justice Goddard is to claim any kind of legitimacy of process, the voices of survivors cannot be silenced and side-lined by loquacious lawyers acting on behalf of the institutions and individuals in the dock. If this inquiry is to have any credence it must retain its independence and not lose sight of who the victims are. This must not become yet another process where abuse of power reigns supreme. 

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