In my opinion the rational approach ... the only rational approach ... to a child abuse inquiry is to assume that no individual can automatically be fully trusted.
In other words, in my view, the principle of "non-trust" is essential when considering how to proceed with any credible child abuse inquiry.
There are three factors that convince me that "non-trust" is the only rational approach to a child abuse inquiry:
- Any individual appointed to a child abuse inquiry (or Royal Commission) may himself or herself be a paedophile.
- Any individual appointed to a child abuse inquiry (or Royal Commission) may himself or herself have "skeletons in the closet" rendering him or her liable to improper pressure
- If an Inquiry (or Royal Commission) has multiple members the possibility of a "corrupt relationship" exists.
First, any individual related to an Inquiry could, in principle, be a paedophile. I challenge anyone who disagrees with that assertion to tell me how reliably to identify a secret paedophile.
If the Chair of the Inquiry (or Royal Commission) was himself or herself, secretly, a padeophile the potential for a tainted inquiry is particularly serious.
To the best of my knowledge there is no reliable way to distinguish a paedophile whose predelictions have not been publicly disclosed from someone worthy of public trust.
In the absence of a reliable diagnostic test for paedophilia it seems to me to be irrational to propose trust, in any absolute sense, in anyone appointed to Chair an inquiry.
Second, any individual appointed to an Inquiry (or Royal Commission) could have one or more "skeletons in the closet" which would render him or her susceptible to improper pressure.
In a context where MI5 is alleged to have been party to the cover-up of child abuse the possibility exists that MI5 (or some other organisation) may have information about the past of a member of the Inquiry (or Royal Commission) which could be used to apply pressure on that Inquiry member to act improperly.
I know of no rational way for the public to exclude the possibility of, for example, MI5 applying improper pressure to the Chair of an Inquiry (or Royal Commission) or to others appointed to the inquiry.
Thirdly, the UK Child Abuse Inquiry (or Royal Commission on Child Abuse) is likely to require a panel with multiple members.
Given that allegations of incompetence and/or impropriety have been made with respect to many organisation and individuals the potential for a "corrupt relationship" is evident.
A "corrupt relationship" could express itself in two ways.
First, Member A could, in principle, agree not to look too hard into the organisation of Member B in return for Member B not looking too hard into Member A's organisation.
Second, an agreement to sanitise wording about each other's organisation could exist.
For example, words such as "there is evidence of predmeditated cover-up of child abuse by [Organisation]" could be sanitised to read something like "the conduct of [Organisation] with respect to transparency was visibly disappointing and fell short of today's standards".
The opportunities for re-wording during an inquiry as complex as that into child abuse are multiple.
Any improper agreement to sanitise wording could devalue or undermine any findings in the final Report of the Inquiry or Royal Commission.
Is the issue of "non-trust" an insuperable barrier to a credible child abuse inquiry?
I believe it isn't an insuperable barrier but the issue of "non-trust" does demand a new approach in order to achieve a credible inquiry.
I see two methologies which, in my estimation, would remove or largely remove concerns occasioned by "non-trust".
- There should be a principle of "total transparency". Every process of an inquiry or Royal Commission should be made public including minutes of preliminary meetings and all drafts of any Report.
- A "Public Panel" should be appointed with access to all material which is submitted to the Inquiry or Royal Commission and other information. The "Public Panel" would, in effect, "keep the panel members honest".
If the "Public Panel" has access to all the data (likely with a suitable confidentiality agreement in place) then the potential for panel members turning a blind eye is reduced or eliminated.
The "Public Panel" would also have the benefit of increasing the number of brains looking at an unprecedented volume of information.
There are many points of detail that would require careful thought but an approach such as the one I have just described seems to me to have great potential to solve the unavoidable issue of "non-trust".