Government minister Sajid Javid has called for an ‘open and honest’ debate about child sexual abuse, following the resignation of Sarah Champion for her problematic comments about abuse by Asian men:
But The SKWAWKBOX looked on Monday at the case of Sharon Evans, former panel member of the government’s child abuse inquiry, who has claimed that members were told how to answer questions put by the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) in order to protect the reputation of Theresa May when she was Home Secretary.
Ms Evans has spoken of the control exerted on panel members testifying to the HASC in a startling interview given to Talk Radio and the fact of the ‘coaching’ has been a matter of public record since 2015 – but the SKWAWKBOX is now able to bring you the scripted answers themselves.
And some of them are both striking and raise serious questions about the inquiry itself.
The scripted answers were circulated with an email telling panel members how to apply them – telling them to use their own words rather than read out the answers:
But the idea that ‘suggested lines only’ might mean panellists could answer differently was quashed during two-hour coaching sessions before the HASC sessions.
The full document is available for download at the end of this article, but some of the most problematic examples are shown individually below.
Do you have faith?
What if you don’t? There’s no room for a dissenting voice or even a personal opinion here. But were there grounds for any lack of confidence?
By this point, the inquiry was under heavy fire from many sides for a lack of transparency and the many conflicts of interest in the fact that its secretarial staff and some panel members worked for the Home Office that it was, in theory and among other departments, meant to be investigating – it was supposedly an independent inquiry.
In addition, as the HASC evidence session on 20 Jan 2015 showed, the committee had already lost two chairs, had no idea who its next chair would be and was struggling to find someone suitable – and the chair appointed the following month, New Zealand judge Lowell Goddard, would later resign amid murky circumstances.
Panellists may indeed have had confidence in a future inquiry – but in such circumstances, the idea that anyone, let alone everyone, would give an unqualified ‘yes’ stretches belief.
But that’s what was scripted for them.
What about X person and the future of the existing panel?
Two questions about an unnamed individual – in context, clearly Sharon Evans – with scripted, non-committal answers. What if you did support her? Nobody disputes that, because of her background in journalism, she was appointed as the media spokesperson for the group.
In addition, while collective responsibility had been discussed, as Ms Evans told the HASC session, there was no chair and not even an agreement among the panel about what constituted a suitable majority for any vote on what should be disclosed to the press – so when she spoke out there was no mechanism in place for agreeing or vetoing.
An acceptable answer is also provided for any question about the future of the panel and whether it should be disbanded. Again an anodyne, essentially non-responsive answer is prescribed with no room for personal opinion – even though the HASC made a point of explaining to those providing evidence that their personal opinion was what was sought, not a collective response.
Who’s writing your letters?
Fiona Woolf was a former chair of the inquiry. A 2014 letter she wrote to Theresa May playing down the involvement of the late Leon Brittan in child abuse was not allowed to be submitted until various revisions had gone back and forth and reached an approved form.
Panel respondents were told to say that the only changes to their own initial draft letter were to ensure factual accuracy – but Ms Evans says that letters were essentially written for panel members by advisers. Their input went far beyond ‘support’ to ensure ‘factual accuracy’.
Security service documents
The panel members were told to answer that they would have access to security service documents if required – but an MP close to the matter has told the SKWAWKBOX that one chair of the inquiry was manoeuvred out of the post within a very short time of asking for documents held by the security services.
Again in a clear reference to Sharon Evans, the scripted answer mandates a response limited to a mere discussion of a protocol. However, Ms Evans told the HASC that she had been threatened with legal action for speaking to the media – even though she was the panel’s media spokesperson.
The full script is too long to include in full in this article but can be downloaded as a PDF below. It is worth reading to see the extent of the control that someone wished to exercise over the answers given to an official parliamentary body.
Whatever Sajid Javid might say, the government’s track record on the treatment of child abuse casts serious doubt on any actual intent to be either open or honest.
If a formal inquiry cannot be trusted to do its putative job of exposing Establishment involvement in the abuse of children, what chance is there of the Tories permitting genuinely open or honest discourse now?
If the Establishment tries to maintain such a tight grip on what members can say even in a setting where they are specifically instructed that their personal views – under parliamentary privilege – are required, what chance is there that they will do anything else than try to keep the tight rein they have maintained so far on public discussion and on the information we can access?
Full document: inq notes compiled
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