Kiwi judge’s resignation as UK child sexual abuse inquiry head explained

by Sol Dolor09 Sep 2016
New Zealand judge Dame Lowell Goddard QC has spoken out for the first time about why she tendered a shock resignation last month from the UK child sexual abuse inquiry which she headed.

Her departure, marking the third time the inquiry lost its top official in two years, cast doubt on the future of the undertaking. Calls were made for Goddard to explain why she resigned.

The inquiry is looking into an alleged paedophile ring said to have operated in the city of Westminster in the 1980s and the possible failure of those in the establishment to protect children.
Goddard, a High Court judge, pointed out problems with the inquiry and said that her departure will pave the way for issues to be addressed.

Rebooting an ambitious but underfunded inquiry
Goddard said that with hindsight – or the benefit of experience – it became apparent to her that the inquiry has “an inherent problem” due to its “sheer scale and size,” adding that the inquiry is underfunded for its lofty goals.

“Its boundless compass, including as it does, every state and non-state institution, as well as relevant institutional contexts, coupled with the absence of any built-in time parameters, does not fit comfortably or practically within the single inquiry model in which it currently resides,” the judge said in evidence submitted to the UK Home Affairs Committee.

“Nor is delivery on the limitless extent of all of the aspirations in its terms of reference possible in any cohesive or comprehensive manner,” the judge said.

On the night of August 4, Goddard sent Home Secretary Amber Rudd a curt letter saying she was resigning with “immediate effect”. Later in a more detailed statement, Goddard mentioned the inquiry has a “legacy of failure”.
Her departure is a way the inquiry can move forward in a renewed fashion, Goddard said in her explanation.

“I have recommended in my report to the Home Secretary that my departure provides a timely opportunity to undertake a complete review of the Inquiry in its present form, with a view to remodelling it and recalibrating its emphasis more towards current events and thus focusing major attention on the present and future protection of children,” she said.

Numerous problems
Goddard, who was blasted by the media before her resignation for spending 74 days away from the UK during her first year as head of the inquiry, also voiced her doubts on the ability of the inquiry’s staff.

The way recruitment was done led to the inquiry having staff whose skills did not fit the tasks they were meant to perform, “as none of the secretariat or senior management team had previous experience of running an inquiry of this nature,” she said.

Goddard said she felt “handicapped by not being given a free hand to recruit staff of the type that I judged to be essential.”

These staff, she said, had a bureaucratic approach and “did not fully understand or appreciate its organisational and operational needs.”

Moreover, the Kiwi judge said that her plan to “scope the Inquiry myself from the ground up on arrival and to build an early operational plan” did not happen.

“Critical building blocks were not put into place either appropriately or swiftly enough,” she also said.

Goddard also lamented the inadequate visibility and communication of the “huge amount of hard work the Inquiry has been putting in over its first 16 months”.

“During my tenure the communications capacity of the Inquiry was never adequate for the formidable and important function of interacting with the public and I suggest that capacity in that regard needs to be radically strengthened for the future,” she noted.

These factors are among the reasons why “the legacy of fallout, both in fact and in the public perception, from the two false starts, has not been able to be decisively dispelled,” she said.

Defending her work
Goddard, whose large pay packet was a point of consternation for some, defended the way she handled the inquiry.

The Kiwi judge was one of the highest-paid civil servants in the UK during her tenure as head of the inquiry. Her yearly pay package included about NZ$660,000 in salary and about NZ$200,000 in accommodation allowance.

Goddard also answered criticisms that the many days she spent away from the UK as she headed the inquiry meant she was not committed to its cause.

“I can assure the members that over the 16 months I have worked as Chair, there has never been a time when the Inquiry and its objectives did not dominate my life,” she said.

“I made a firm commitment to undertake it and was determined to see it through to its conclusion. I am disappointed that that this has not been possible.”

Inquiry is not underfunded, just overwhelming for Goddard
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Rudd told the UK Home Affairs Committee that the inquiry may be ambitious, but it is not underfunded.

According to The Guardian, Rudd said she believed Goddard left the inquiry “because she found it too much for her and although she could contribute to it and there was some good work done in the past year, ultimately she found it too lonely. She was a long way from home and she decided to step down.”

“That's all the information I have about why she decided to go,” Rudd said.

The Home Secretary noted, however, that though she had never met the Kiwi judge, she trusted the judge genuinely wanted the inquiry to succeed.

Nonetheless, Rudd said: “But she did set out in the letter that she didn't feel that she could actually deliver on it.”