Abuse inquiry cleared of failing to investigate own sex assault claim

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Jul 04, 2017
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Ben Emmerson, QC, was accused by another member of his legal team at the inquiry of bullying and later quit his post

Anthony Devlin/PA

The national child abuse inquiry has been cleared of allegations that it failed to investigate sexual complaints and bullying on its own doorstep.

Mark Sutton, QC, of Old Square Chambers, was asked to look into the circumstances of the resignation last September of counsel to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, Ben Emmerson, QC, amid “considerable media speculation”. It was reported that the inquiry had been faced with allegations of bullying and a sexual assault and accusations of an “inadequate” response.

In a report yesterday Sutton concluded that “the events which came to a head in September last year were the product of a highly specific and confined set of circumstances”. He said that at the time the inquiry was “recovering its footing following the unsatisfactory leadership of its former chair” and the events were not a product of deficiencies in the inquiry’s workplace culture, nor symptomatic of difficulties in its working environment. Confronted with those circumstances, the inquiry responded in a way which, “judged in the round, was in my view both appropriate and proportionate”, Sutton concluded.

The allegation was made by another barrister on the inquiry team, Ms A, who reported a “serious episode” concerning Emmerson’s conduct, the report said. However, in the same discussion she identified factors which “significantly qualified the way in which the alleged episode should be responded to”. She made clear that she did not want the issue investigated, he said.

Nonetheless steps were taken to exclude Emmerson, a prominent silk at Matrix Chambers in Gray’s Inn, from the inquiry offices pending a decision on how to proceed. Ms A then said she was bringing forward her planned resignation, blaming Emmerson’s style of leadership.

Sutton said that the inquiry was keen to engage with Emmerson to see if a solution could be found to enable him to continue in his role, but this was pre-empted by his decision to announce his own resignation. 

Matrix Chambers commissioned its own report into the allegations made against Emmerson, which was conducted by the former Director of Public Prosecutions and former High Court judge, Sir David Calvert-Smith, QC. The report was not published but the chambers, which also refused to release it to the inquiry, said that Sir David had concluded “without hesitation” that Emmerson “had not committed any act of sexual assault or sexual harassment”.

Many of the alleged offences covered by the Jersey inquiry were said to have taken place at the Haut de la Garenne children's home

Lewis Whyld/PA

Jersey investigation ‘allowed legal costs to spiral’

Legal costs for the inquiry into allegations that children were abused in care in Jersey were allowed to spiral out of control, an expert complained as the investigation published its findings yesterday.

Jim Diamond, a prominent costs lawyer, criticised the inquiry for allowing legal costs to balloon to £23 million, four times the initial projected figure. “I think some serious questions need to be asked,” Diamond told the Jersey Evening Post.

The newspaper reported that Eversheds Sutherland, the transatlantic law firm, was “one of the main recipients” of the legal costs because it provided solicitor services to the inquiry.

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