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Victims group withdraws from UK-wide child sex abuse inquiry

Alexis Jay chairs a UK-wide inquiry into child sexual abuse

ONE of the largest victims' groups involved in the UK-wide inquiry into child sexual abuse has announced it is formally withdrawing from the probe - branding it an "unpalatable circus".

The Shirley Oaks Survivors Association (Sosa) delivered a blistering critique of the troubled investigation - describing it as a "stage-managed event" which has "lurched from crisis to crisis".

And there were calls for another change at the top of the inquiry, which is already on its fourth chairwoman.

Sosa represents victims affected by abuse at children's homes run by Lambeth Council in south London.

In a highly critical statement, it said: "Our decision to pull out of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) should have come with regret but we are sad to say the only emotion we feel is relief.

"Now our members do not have to relive their worst nightmares in this stage-managed event which has now been contrived in such a way that it enables the guilty to wash their dirty hands, whilst the establishment pats itself on the back."

The group called on panel members to resign "for the sake of all those children who were abused historically".

It said it feared current chairwoman Prof Alexis Jay is "an uninspiring leader" and it does not believe she is the right person to uncover the truth behind allegations of historical abuse.

The association concluded that the inquiry is an "opportunity lost" which "will leave a pigment of shame on the government's hands".

Sosa chairman Raymond Stevenson said members voted on Saturday that they no longer wanted to be part of the inquiry.

"The inquiry needs to sort itself out. They need to get rid of Alexis Jay, who's been parachuted in by the Home Office. She's not the right person," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna said he did not have confidence in Prof Jay as chair of the inquiry and wanted to see a judge of High Court level or above appointed in her place.

"Can Prof Jay bring the heft and forensic capacity of a judge to this inquiry, which is what is needed? I'm not confident that she can," he said.

Peter Saunders, founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, who sits on the inquiry's victims advisory panel, told Today: "Shirley Oaks is one group. Napac as a charity hears every year from many, many thousands - in fact probably more than 100,000 people have been in touch with Napac since our support line was launched.

"So let's not be distracted by just one group."

An inquiry spokesman said: "We are sorry to hear that Shirley Oaks Survivors Association have decided to withdraw from the investigation into children in the care of Lambeth Council.

"Our investigation will continue and will examine the scale and nature of the abuse that may have taken place under the care of Lambeth Council with pace, confidence and clarity."

The inquiry, which was first established by then home secretary Theresa May in 2014, has been beset by problems and controversy.

Earlier this week it emerged that another senior lawyer at the probe had resigned.

Described as the most ambitious public inquiry ever launched in England and Wales, it is running several investigative strands spanning decades.

There have been suggestions that it could cost more than £100 million.

Following her resignation earlier this year, former chairwoman Dame Lowell Goddard said there was an "inherent problem" in the inquiry's "sheer scale and size".

Last month Prof Jay unveiled her strategy to complete most of the inquiry's work by 2020.

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister continued to have full confidence in Prof Jay and did not believe the inquiry was in crisis.

"It's important to emphasise that the work of the inquiry to investigate the abuse of children in Lambeth and elsewhere is ongoing," the spokesman said.

"That work will continue.

"The interests of victims and survivors are at the heart of this inquiry and it is right that it should be allowed to continue its work. It is important that it remains independent of government."

Asked whether Mrs May now regretted the way she set up the inquiry while home secretary, the spokesman replied: "No."

Home secretary Amber Rudd said: "The independent inquiry has a vital role to play in exposing the failure of public bodies and other major organisations to prevent child sexual abuse.

"We must learn the lessons of the past and we owe it to victims and survivors to get behind the inquiry, and its chair Alexis Jay, in its endeavour."

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