The Victims Survivors Consultative Panel seems to have evolved into a cadre of IICSA spokespeople who comment not on the glacial progress of the inquiry, the reasons for loss of another chair, the appointment of a replacement at breakneck speed who is unversed in law despite the inquiry being statutory, nor the exceptionally poor inquiry communications , but on issues they neither know or understand because they fall outside VSCP Terms of Reference. Furthermore this Panel has yet to produce a report informing us what it has done in the last year. Despite these concerns, three VSCP members in full well briefed ‘on message’ cheerleader mode, undertook a gushathon of media engagements on multiple platforms following Justice Goddard’s resignation. The trio bore a striking resemblance to three hubcaps arriving in the car park in advance of the ditched charabanc from which they’d become momentarily detached.
The IICSA Comms trio are now seemingly the official spokespeople for the inquiry, yet this is not included in the Panel’s terms of reference :
The VSCP will: Have a direct link to the Chair and Panel via the nominated Single Point of Contact for the VSCP to discuss issues as they arise as well as formal joint Panel and VSCP meetings.
Be provided with legal, administrative and media communications support. Act collectively and take collective responsibility to reach decisions and in the making of any statements.
VSCP terms of reference include :
- The way in which the Inquiry engages with victims and survivors
- Research and evidence on child sexual abuse
- Advise on direction of workstreams
- Advise on recommendations
To fulfil these obligations the panel meets once a week. They have collective responsibility.
People who applied for VSCP roles did so despite there being no ‘pathfinder’ terms of reference. Applicants did not know what they were applying for, but then their interviewers did not know what they were interviewing for. Really!
One has to wonder how the appointments were made? In the absence of pathfinder ToRs it can only have been on the basis of ‘does the face fit?’ Or to put it another way – appointments of patronage. We wrote about it in April 2015 when the invitations for panel membership were announced. For the record, no one who coalesces around Mandate Now applied. Two of our number declined permission to have their names submitted to IICSA for consideration.
The picture above is a screenshot of an interview that happened on the 13th November 2014 outside the former office of NAPAC located in the Oval. The occasion was a meeting between Theresa May, who was being heavily criticised for having not spoken with abusees, and approximately thirteen survivors following the resignation of Fiona Woolf, the second chair of the Panel Inquiry. Also present were people from the Home Office who now hold positions in the inquiry’s administration. At the end of the engagement the four in the photograph left the room in the slipstream of Theresa May’s entourage and straight into the embrace of the assembled media to confirm the Home Secretary ‘got it.’
In the picture from left to right are : Fay Maxted, Lucy Duckworth, Chris Tuck, and Peter Saunders. These four now constitute more than half the members of the VSCP and yet, this interview occurred five months before the invitation to apply for VSCP membership was announced. Was this perhaps a trial outing for the spokespeople in waiting?
The most recent appearances by Peter Saunders, Chris Tuck and Lucy Duckworth followed Justice Goddard’s resignation. A number of people expressed surprise to us at being swamped by cheerleader opinion from the three. The deluge of ‘on message’ coverage would have better come from an official IICSA spokesperson operating at the centre of the inquiry. But IICSA doesn’t appear to have any other spokespersons, or at least not ones that appear on broadcast media. Even if there was someone, s/he would have to join the sharp elbowed queue of Panel members to get to a microphone.
There was collective astonishment at Goddard’s resignation yet when it happened, La Duckworth, Tuck, and Le Saunders burst onto the media to impart their ‘on message’ opinion, sometimes even using the same lexicon. One went ‘off-message’ to suggest a Chair wasn’t needed. A visit to the Inquiries Act would have informed the Panel member otherwise. But hey, what does it matter, free-styling is fun when you have a platform and know so few facts about either the resignation or the Inquiries Act. But let’s not forget ‘collective responsibility’ applies. Were I one of the panel members who have remained wisely silent, I would be very concerned at these outings which seem to now dominate VSCP activity.
Here is a little of what happened:
Lucy Duckworth with prepared notes.
Lucy Duckworth also appeared on Channel 4 and ITV with the same line of gushy opinion which one presumes is the collective position of the VSCP.
Peter Saunders, who has an inbuilt MGS (Microphone Guidance System) to take him to all exposed microphones in prioritised order in a ten mile radius of his contemporaneous position, pitched up on the Vanessa Feltz programme on BBC Radio London. This contribution we have edited to one key question before the interview was truncated by traffic news:
Clearly Peter, and one must presume the VSCP as a whole, are under the impression they possess the power to ‘make sure’ that the inquiry delivers change of an unspecified nature. Goodness how muscular! Except the ToRs clearly indicate the VSCP has no such power.
Then on the 10/8/16 Chris Tuck stepped up with an article in the Guardian. The headline makes the point and its
a ‘move forward‘ piece. Comfort blankets and sweet tea but nothing of substance from another of the inquiry’s spokespeople:
“It is important to remember that the inquiry is not just about Goddard; there are many other people involved and a new chair will be appointed in due course”
Lucy Duckworth said something startlingly similar in her appearance on Today. Some of Lucy’s #r4today interview, in which she highlights the ‘huge’ scale of the inquiry, is embedded into Chris Tuck’s Opinion piece. Chris goes onto say :
“I joined the victims and survivors’ consultative panel in July 2015”
Given the BBC interview outside the offices of NAPAC on 13th November 2014, one could be forgiven for thinking a significant proportion of the VSCP, and now IICSA spokespeople, had been assembled before November 2014.
Following the resignation of Justice Goddard, abusees needed to hear fact from an inquiry spokesperson, someone who is seen to be at its core, and speaking on behalf of it. Anything else is pointless and open to criticism which will grow if these VSCP outings continue. Whatever the ToR’s contain, survivors have a mindset that thinks the VSCP by their very presence, should be holding IICSA’s feet to the fire. Instead, the Panel seems ‘captured,’ and is doing IICSA’s bidding. One senses it adopts the impression of the last civil servant to sit on it and worryingly, it seems happy with the arrangement.
Independent and well reasoned opinion on Goddard’s departure was provided by Richard Scorer, a solicitor who acts for a number of Core Participants in the Inquiry.
On the 28th August yet another article appeared, this time on a social newspaper. Peter Saunders was wearing a NAPAC badge for this outing, or was he? Here is the piece : Why the Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is so important. Peter in full cheerleader mode, pom poms aquiver:
And that is why I think the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is so important. Granted it has had a few false starts but behind the scenes there is a great deal of work going on and in Professor Alexis Jay we have a Chair of huge integrity and experience and as a member of the Inquiry’s Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel I have had the privilege of speaking with Professor Jay on a number of occasions. This really is victims’ and survivors’ once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come forward to the Inquiry and be heard.
I recently met the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and was most impressed by her commitment to the Inquiry and to child protection. She is as keen to be made fully aware of this scourge in society as her predecessor was. And to have both the Home Secretary and Prime Minister committed to supporting the Inquiry and indeed organisations like NAPAC is a great step in the right direction.
For whose benefit is this slurry?
And then, just as we thought IICSA’s spokespeople had gone home to bed, Peter appears on BBC News on the subject of Janner :
Peter is under the NAPAC banner for this interview with Tom Symonds. The Janner family had come out strongly in the defence of their father. Tom well understands Peter has an unerring addiction to microphones. The report was exclusively about IICSA, but why is IICSA commenting?
It didn’t stop there. On 6/9/16 with klaxon blaring and the light flashing on Peter’s MGS he ‘zeroed in’ on World at One for a session with Ed Sturton. You’ll recognise much of it but the seeming redesign of the inquiry is new. Was Peter free-styling? Who knows? Does he know? The enormity of the inquiry was mentioned for the umpteenth time because size clearly matters. One wonders whether the repeated mention of the size of the inquiry is preparation for some sort of paring of its scope by the sponsoring Department. During her appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee 7/9/16 in response to a question from Chuka Umunna about paring, Amber Rudd said she saw no reason to change it. But she could be given one to consider if the new Chair asks.
In our April 2015 posting titled ‘The Victims Survivors Consultative Panel (VSCP) – what’s it for?’ the penultimate paragraph says: “Those who consider applying for the VSCP are in danger of being nothing more than decoration without meaningful function other than to burnish the credibility of the inquiry.”
It’s spooky that the crystal ball got it fairly correct. Trying tasseography next.