Survivors of Organised and Institutional Abuse (SOIA)

 

The following statement has been sent to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and SOIA’s lawyers have been instructed to inform Professor Jay that SOIA wishes to be ruled out as Core Participants to IICSA.  Survivors of Organised and Institutional Abuse (SOIA), as part of the national WhiteFlowers survivor and whistleblower campaign, was set up to ensure that survivors were properly represented before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).  In 2016, when Professor Alexis Jay became the Chair of the Inquiry, SOIA secured core participant status for 4 members within the Accountability and Reparation investigation strand of IICSA.   SOIA gained pro-bono representation from Sam Stein QC and David Enright of Howe and Co Solicitors and contributed issues papers to some seminars within the Accountability and Reparation strand. It is with deep regret that SOIA announces its withdrawal from the Inquiry.  We emphasise that each of us will continue to vigorously campaign outside of IICSA, for the rights of survivors of organised and institutional abuse to justice and healing. We support the publically stated concerns of Shirley Oaks Survivors Association when they announced their withdrawal last year and the views of tireless campaigners Andrew and Jane Kershaw who recently also withdrew as core participants.  For 3 years, Whiteflowers and its SOIA Core Participants have striven to ensure that IICSA delivered justice for survivors and brought to account all those particularly at the highest level of society who protected child sex offenders from facing the full force of the law.When the original inquiry was established by Theresa May as Home Secretary in 2014, we were aware that survivors faced an uphill task. We have consistently pointed out that thousands of survivors have claims against the Home Office, not only in regard to its ongoing failure to bring many child abusers to justice but also the Home Office’s overseeing of the hundreds of brutally abusive children’s homes it had responsibility for prior to 1970. Nevertheless, the Home Office had prime responsibility for establishing the inquiry and when the inquiry was declared Independent in 2015 the Home Office simply seconded its senior staff who had run the initial inquiry to IICSA.We campaigned to challenge the appointments of establishment figures as chairs of the inquiry who had clear conflicts of interest. It was survivors’ efforts which secured the removal of these chairs. WhiteFlowers put forward a proposal for Michael Mansfield to Chair the Inquiry but instead a former social work executive was appointed. Against this background, Whiteflowers and SOIA have worked to ensure that survivors took their place at the fulcrum of the inquiry. Yet, in 2015, Theresa May stood by Justice Goddard who barred survivors from the Inquiry led Panel stating their alleged lack of objectivity.   Our efforts have been continually rebuffed.  Instead many survivors, no matter what their professional status, found their views patronised.  At inquiry seminars, for example, survivors were ordered not to speak but to submit their questions on Post-It notes or to only comment briefly at the end of the session.  Never did we have place at the table other than via our legal representatives.Survivors were also denied adequate allowances and support for participation in inquiry proceedings. We have repeatedly pointed out that while those institutions which so failed (and which continue to fail) survivors spend millions of pounds on defending their actions at the Inquiry, survivors are left to rely on pro-bono support from lawyers.  Instead the Inquiry has its Victims and Survivors Consultative Group (VSCP), which was appointed by Justice Goddard and whose members are paid and officially act as media mouthpieces and apologists for the Inquiry – not a conduit for survivors.The Truth Project in our view is not a valid or meaningful means of collating survivor testimony. It allows for ventilation of survivor accounts but takes these nowhere other than to anonymously inform further research projects. It does not enable civil or criminal routes to justice and healing or any form of redress.  Whilst some survivors value the opportunity to be heard at the Truth Project, others have experienced it as a pointless exercise.We have informed IICSA of our concerns about the lack of an investigative approach by the Truth Project.  Interviewers at the Truth Project are not trained to assess if children are at current risk - which is the IICSA criteria for a police referral. It is our view that this should not be the only criteria for referral as there are also wider issues to be considered in addressing organised crime networks. When referral takes place, it is to a police coordinator from Operation Hydrant which makes a referral to local police teams which may already have failed to investigate.  This can be problematic for some survivors. SOIA has always argued for a statutory multiagency child protection investigation team to run in parallel to the inquiry but independent of it.We have also presented to IICSA our concerns that the Truth Project does not apply to whistleblowers. We see this as a major gap in the IICSA process with no available safe route or defined process for whistleblowers to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences.  The Inquiry was originally intended to be set up to investigate organised and institutional abuse at the highest level of society. In fact, the terms of reference focus is on agency responses to child sexual abuse and not to proactively investigate perpetrators of all forms of abuse and bring them to justice. In 4 years, survivors are no closer to seeing powerful child sex abusers and their networks brought to justice. Survivors’ campaigning brought about the Inquiry. Survivors pressure ensured the removal of its first two Chairs, the removal of the Home-Office surviving 1970 cut off point for investigations, and most significantly the creation of a statutory inquiry with full legal powers, plus an additional £4 million in funding for survivor support organisations.  Above and beyond this, the very battle for justice brought the issue to the attention of millions of people and has made huge inroads into all forms of child abuse being classed as a taboo subject, as has been most recently demonstrated by the statements of professional footballers about abuse at the highest level of the nation’s most popular sport.We wish to thank all those who have contributed time, effort and their own money to Whiteflowers and SOIA. However, we believe that, despite our efforts, IICSA remains not fit for purpose. Indeed it has descended into a very costly academic report writing and literature review exercise with survivors totally marginalised from effective participation in the research process.  It is also due to report when many of those abusers who might be implicated will be dead or deemed incapable of appearing in court. Importantly though, it is not realistic for us to continue to self finance and take for granted  the generosity and commitment of pro bono lawyers in enabling our contribution to IICSA as this puts us at a severe and significant disadvantage compared to well-resourced large institutions and government bodies.  In this res pect the Inquiry is unfair and discriminatory in process and methodology.  Whiteflowers considers that survivors’ efforts to secure justice and improved survivor support services will be more effectively focused elsewhere than by contribution to IICSA.  SOIA is therefore withdrawing from IICSA participation.We have argued over a long period with IICSA that if it was to have a remote success of becoming fit for purpose and having some real value for survivors and the battle against child abuse then it needed to take urgent steps to do the following: ·        Bring an end to Home Office sponsorship of the Inquiry - Replacement of the IICSA leadership team·        Appoint Michael Mansfield as Co-Chair·        Fully fund survivor involvement,  including independent survivor consultative conferences·        Arrange for a survivor led process to elect two proven survivor campaigners onto the full panel ·        Replace the VSCP with elected survivor campaigners, with the VSCP to have full access to documents and relevant material·        Give a “Survivors are experts” commitment from IICSA for survivor representatives to have equal place at IICSA seminars and other IICSA events.·        Make safe and appropriate provision for including whistleblowers in the Inquiry process·        Appoint a national police-led, multi-agency  investigation team to pursue criminal and child protection investigations·        Prioritise and expand the module supposed to be investigating organised & institutional abuse and cover ups at the highest levelSadly, we have had not the slightest indication that IICSA would take these actions nor can we reasonably suggest to survivors that they will do so in the future. Survivors of Organised and Institutional Abuse (SOIA)





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