A MEMBER of the independent panel into child sexual abuse has told MPs she has been “bullied” by the barrister conducting the embattled inquiry.
Home Secretary Theresa May set up the inquiry to find out whether public bodies had neglected or covered up allegations of child sex abuse in the wake of claims paedophiles had operated in Westminster in the 1980s.
Panel member Sharon Evans, a child abuse survivor and chief executive of the Dot Com Children’s Foundation, which helps prevent children from becoming victims of violence or abuse, told the Home Affairs Select Committee she felt “bullied” by counsel to the inquiry Ben Emmerson QC.
Ms Evans said Mr Emmerson was “overstepping the mark” with his advice, including demands she re-write letters sent to the Home Secretary and agreed he was “running the show”.
Chair of the committee Keith Vaz asked Ms Evans about reported concerns she had over alleged threats made by Mr Emmerson in respect of evidence she would give to the Committee.
Ms Evans said: “I do feel concerned, very concerned, yes.”
She went on: “I believe I have been called here today – I was appointed, I was told, as the media person for the independent panel and to help understand a survivor perspective and I feel that I was told today that we must speak with a collective voice.
“I feel that would prevent me from answering some of your questions honestly.”
Ms Evans said she was concerned about the “independence” of the inquiry in relation to advice she had received from one adviser, adding that letters she had sent to the Home Secretary had been re-written by him.
“I felt very bullied,” she told the Committee. “He was overstepping the mark with advice and re-writing of letters.”
Mr Vaz started the session by reminding the panel members it would be a contempt of the house for anyone to threaten them over evidence they wanted to give to the Committee.
Ms Evans was joined by panel members Drusilla Sharpling, Professor Jenny Pearce and Professor Alexis Jay.
The inquiry was announced in July but still has no chairman, following the resignations of the Government’s first two choices, and doubts remain over plans to give it extra powers.
Previous appointments as inquiry chairwomen Fiona Woolf and Baroness Butler-Sloss resigned following claims about their perceived closeness to establishment figures.
The Home Secretary revealed in a letter last month that she was considering standing down the current panel in favour of a royal commission or a new inquiry on statutory terms.
Panel member Jenny Pearce, Professor of Young People and Public Policy at the University of Bedfordshire, who was recently awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for research on child sexual exploitation influencing safeguarding, told MPs the panel work must “carry on”.
She said: “The work must carry on, it’s a very important inquiry. The work of the inquiry must carry on.”
The Government insisted it still expected the panel to be up and running under its new chair by the end of March, when Parliament is dissolved ahead of the general election.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We want to get this right. We understand very much that concerns have been raised previously by victims and victims’ groups about the process that is being followed. We have been very clear in our determination to get that right.”
Asked if the panel would be established under the new chair by the end of March, the spokesman said: “I do think that you will see this set up in the coming period.”