Home Office Inquiry must be slow, thorough and uncompromising…

I wonder who thought it a good idea to put an 80 year old Baroness with close family ties to a former British Attorney General in charge of an inquiry into how the Home Office handled abuse claims dating from the 1980s, ie at the very time her late brother was the government’s chief legal officer?

According to the BBC… “Lady Butler-Sloss said she ‘did not sufficiently consider’ whether her family links would cause difficulties in the inquiry.” Fair enough, as far as it goes. But whoever appointed her wasn’t thinking too straight on the matter either.

Okay, so that’s yesterday’s news (it’s literally just been shunted off the front page of BBC News as I write), so as of now, the inquiry has no chair, and no terms of reference. Theresa May now has no choice but to look for a (junior?) member of the establishment, with a transparently clean pair of hands.

Clarity on both will be essential for any successful outcome. The problem facing the Inquiry (and its potential critics) was well put by John Lloyd in his 2004 essay What the Media are doing to our politics, when he noted that…

… much of what occurs, especially in times of crisis, does so behind closed doors. Getting information from the many tightly knotted strings of information, which uncoil themselves behind closed doors is a fraught business. The more vital any closed door process is, the more enjoined the insiders are to secrecy.

Pull the string too tightly, or too early, and you run the danger of it snapping, leaving the loose end buried deeply and irretrievably within the warp and weft of the loom.

All of which puts particular emphasis on getting this inquiry right. As the BBC notes

…a second controversial appointment might look like carelessness at the top of government. Already there are calls for a figure less linked to the establishment to be appointed – but if a legal background, along with the security clearance to read confidential government papers is required, then that could be easier said than done.

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