So Elizabeth Butler-Sloss has stepped down from chairing the Panel Inquiry into child sex abuse before it had even got to work. A disparate coalition of voices had urged her removal, and some of those most keen on self-promotion will now tell that it was them wot won it, although the crucial element will have been those directly representing the victims. But this latest move will make no difference.
Yes, her late brother Michael Havers was Attorney-General, and yes, there are numerous grounds on which his integrity appears to have been compromised during his career, even before the incident that is being cited as the last straw for Butler-Sloss, that he had a bishop’s name withdrawn from a contemporary inquiry into child abuse to allegedly shield the Church.
However, and in this case there is a significantly sized however, the idea that Butler-Sloss could have manoeuvred a Panel Inquiry so as to keep any incriminating details on the career and judgments of her late brother quiet is fanciful in the extreme. For that to occur would require both a conspiracy throughout the Panel’s membership, and the tacit connivance of press, broadcast and online media.
No, whether Butler-Sloss chaired this Inquiry would not have changed anything. It is the intense scrutiny upon whoever is in that chair that should concern us. A senior figure is needed. But that means someone who was around in the 70s and 80s. So whoever is chosen in place of Butler-Sloss will immediately come under pressure to show that their record is not likely to prejudice the outcome.
That means there will, inevitably, be a further delay while Home Secretary Theresa May considers – with rather more care, no doubt – who might be tasked with the job. And the more delay, the further back into the mists of time will go the acts that the Inquiry should be investigating. So there will be clear, if unintended beneficiaries from the uncertainty: those who may have something to hide.
Anyone thinking that the motives of all those who opposed Butler-Sloss were as noble as those of the victims will be disabused of that notion as soon as her successor is named. Bias will be alleged. Anyone of the same age as Butler-Sloss will be held to be past it. Editors, while still clamouring for action, will cause delays by urging the digging up of whatever dirt can be found.
This furore is not about Elizabeth Butler-Sloss. What it is about is several things: the media positioning itself, to ensure it can get righteous in the retelling; politicians not wanting mud to stick to their team if they can avoid it; lawyers and law enforcement agencies likewise. But most of all it is about an establishment that would rather not have the past raked over, if it’s all the same to us plebs.
Who is in charge of the Inquiry, therefore, is of less consequence than admitted.
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