Following this week’s awful events at Grenfell Tower, Theresa May’s first reaction was to call for a public inquiry. Indeed during her tenure as Home Secretary, this was her go to move to diffuse difficult situations to which she had an inkling she wouldn’t enjoy the answer.
She had a habit as we say in Wales, of kicking the ball into touch. The Child Sex Abuse Scandal Inquiry, The Daniel Morgan Murder inquiry and multiple inquiries into the UK Border Agency litter Theresa May’s time at the Home Office. There is one thing that unites all of them. We are yet to see the results.
The Child Abuse inquiry is the perfect example of a troubled inquiry that Theresa May has mismanaged. Whilst Home Secretary, Mrs May repeatedly ignored the advice of Home Office officials in relation to the Inquiry’s then Chair, Dame Lowell Goddard. This is after the two former Chairs of the inquiry stepped down after potential conflicts of interest were exposed.
All those who have listened to the ‘Untold’ podcasts or paid any particular attention to the Leveson reports will know the story of Daniel Morgan and his murder. In 2013, 26 years after his death and following intense pressure to do so, an inquiry was set up by, you guessed it, the then Home Secretary, Theresa May. The report was due to be published early 2016 but is still yet to be released. This panel has also struggled with retaining Chairs, now being on its second.
The Saville Inquiry was set up to report on the events of Bloody Sunday, the massacre that occurred in Derry on the 30th January 1972, where 14 people lost their lives. Tony Blair set up the Saville Inquiry in 1998, with the results published in June 2010. It took twelve years to unpick the chaos of one afternoon’s horror.
You do not hold a public inquiry when you want quick answers, you do it to kick difficult answers into touch.
There are further problems inherent within the public inquiry system. Namely, that the Government can unduly influence the inquiry when they set the terms of reference. With Leveson they were able to block its second stage and even advocated its total abandonment in their 2017 Manifesto. Inquiries are not held when you want answers, they are what you do when you want to hush things up.
Sophie Khan, legal director of the Police Action Centre, has advised the bereaved families to press for inquests instead of the public inquiry. “I’m very concerned as to why Ms May came out so quickly to say ‘public inquiry’. What is there, that she knows, that needs to be hidden?” she said, adding that inquest juries often “get out of control” and say things that may be very difficult for the government to hear.
If we want truth to prevail we must add weight to calls for an inquest. We cannot allow the ball to fly over our heads this time.