New Zealand judge Dame Lowell Goddard QC unexpectedly resigned from her post Thursday night as the chair of an independent inquiry into institutionalised child sexual abuse in England and Wales.
Goddard’s departure, the third time the inquiry has lost its chairperson, casts doubts on its future, just two years after it was established. Goddard spent just over a year as head of the inquiry.
Set up in mid-2014, the inquiry was started after it was alleged that parties in the establishment covered up the operation of an alleged paedophile ring in the city of Westminster in the 80s.
The resignation comes after Goddard was criticised in the media for spending 74 days away from the UK after she was appointed, The Guardian
reported. In reports, her large pay package that includes a £360,000 (about NZ$660,000) salary and a £110,000 (about NZ$200,000) accommodation allowance has also been highlighted.
In a brief letter Thursday night sent to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Goddard said she was resigning “with immediate effect” and that she trusted Rudd will accept the decision.
Goddard later released the following more detailed statement:
“I announce with regret my decision to resign as chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, effective from today.
“When I was first approached through the British High Commissioner in Wellington in late 2014, and asked to consider taking up the role, I had to think long and hard about it.
“After carefully discussing the matter with the home secretary and her officials and seeking the counsel of those people in New Zealand whose opinions mattered to me, I decided that I should undertake the role, given my relevant experience and track record in the area.
“It was, however, an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family.
“The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.”
In her reply, Home Secretary Rudd said, “I know that this will have been a difficult decision for you to make, and something you will have carefully considered.”
She added that she was sorry to receive the letter but that she accepts the judge’s decision.
Rudd noted that the inquiry, perceived as “the most ambitious public inquiry ever established in England and Wales,” had progressed under Goddard’s command.
“Under your leadership, the Inquiry has already instituted and made progress on each of its three core projects: the Research Project; the Truth Project; and the Public Hearings project,” Rudd wrote.
She commended how personally committed Goddard, a New Zealand high court judge, was to making the project as comprehensive, inclusive and thorough as possible and for it to succeed for the survivors and victims.
Goddard had “set the Inquiry firmly on course,” Rudd said, and is now allowing “someone else to lead it through to the end.” The Home Secretary said she agreed that this is the right decision.
However, the inquiry has been beset by delays and setbacks including the resignation of two other chiefs, observers note.
The inquiry’s first chairwoman, Baroness Butler-Sloss, resigned just days after her appointment after it was pointed out that her late brother, Lord Havers, was the attorney general in the 80s. Critics also pointed out to her performance overseeing an inquiry into abuse in the Church of England.
Former Lord Mayor of London, Dame Fiona Woolf, the inquiry’s second chairwoman, also resigned after her “establishment links,” particularly to former home secretary Leon Brittan, was called into question.