Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and the worthlessness of public inquiries

Robert Henderson

The recent appointment of a senior and effectively retired judge Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss  to head an investigation into allegations of paedophiles operating within politics, the church,  public bodies,  and  the media  is probably as good an example of the British Establishment shamelessly attempting to control scandalous events which have reached the public arena  as you could wish to see.

To begin with  Butler-Sloss  is the sister of Sir Michael Havers who was attorney-general in the Thatcher government in the 1980s. During that time many of the child-abuse scandals now being uncovered or alleged were taking place.  Some of these allegations would  have reached  Havers.  One  we do know of: Havers was accused in the 1980s of preventing the prosecution for paedophile crimes of  the senior diplomat and member pf the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE)  Sir Peter Hayman.

Those facts alone should have made her unsuitable for the post  because  judges like Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.  But there is more. Butler-Sloss is an active member of the House of Lords , albeit a cross-bencher. That in itself makes her quite unsuitable for the job  whether or not she veers towards the conservative side of politics – and she probably  will  lean to the Right  bearing in mind her family background  and the fact that she stood as a Tory candidate in the 1959 General Election . She will be engaging in politics, expressing political opinions and consorting with the same class  of people who have appointed her, all of  which renders her a figure who cannot reasonably  be regarded as impartial.

Then there is her previous role in another investigation concerning paedophilia which produced a report in 2011 that criticised her competence , viz:

 Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former judge appointed to investigate allegations of an establishment cover-up of child sex abuse, was forced to issue an apology after making crucial errors in a previous inquiry into two paedophile priests, The Telegraph can disclose.

The peer was put in charge of a “flawed” investigation into how the Church of England handled the cases of two ministers in Sussex who had sexually abused boys.

Eight months after her report was published Lady Butler-Sloss had to issue a six-page addendum in which she apologised for “inaccuracies” which, she admitted, arose from her failure to corroborate information which was given to her by senior Anglican figures as part of the inquiry.

Finally, there is her age. She is eighty. Ask yourself how many people of that age you have met who seemed really mentally alert and possessed of considerable mental and physical stamina? I am in my sixties and can honestly say I have never met anyone of Butler-Sloss’ age who possessed all those qualities. Yet that is precisely what is required for an investigation like this.  Her negligence in the paedophile report  cited above suggests that even in 2011 she was not mentally up to the job.

Nor would lack of mental and physical capacity to undertake a thorough investigation be the only drawback to employing someone of her age.  The nature of the investigation will mean that there will be people with power wealth and influence under threat involved together with any servants of the elite who may have acted to protect them.  At best these will be people who have the money and connections to publicly fight against any disagreeable conclusions Butler-Sloss’ report may  come to  and at worst such people may use their power and influence to engage in a dirty tricks campaign against Butler-Sloss.  Even if Butler-Sloss has no skeletons in her cupboard whatsoever  it is difficult to imagine an 81-year-old  having the stomach for a prolonged public fight.  Consequently, the temptation will be for her to suppress evidence or misinterpret it on purpose to avoid controversy.

Finally, there is the fact that her age means there is a strong chance of her being  either unable to complete the report  through incapacity through  disease such as a stroke or through death.

Why did Cameron put someone who was so obviously wrong for the job in charge of the investigation? Perhaps it was simply sloppiness. He wanted an establishment figure who could be relied on to produce a report which would not point the finger of blame at any politicians at the least and most probably not at anyone from the elite.  He probably simply grabbed her because (1) she  was a senior judge and (2) because she was a woman which would  earn Cameron  pc brownie points. He may have also consciously or unconsciously thought of this type of subject was more naturally the province of a woman because the victims were either children or  women.

It might seem incredible that no check was made on Butler-Sloss’ background, but think of the number of times that politicians demonstrate a bewildering ignorance of the consequences of the laws they pass.  Simple incompetence is all too plausible. The alternative explanation is that Cameron  did know but simply ignored  the red no-go lights  in her background because  he believed, cynically,  that the public will swallow anything however outrageous provided a public enquiry is set in motion.

What should be done?

Public enquiries have a tremendous monotony  to their outcomes. Inquiry reports  whose conclusions and recommendations severely criticise a  politician who is still active and whose party is  in power when the report is published have a frequency of occurrence only marginally better than that of unicorns, while  any really severe criticism of any politician or senior public servant, whether retired or not,  is pretty rare.

Often public inquiry  reports contain a good deal of material which suggests that serious negligence or crimes have been committed by politicians or senior public servants,  but the conclusions and recommendations of the report do not carry through on the evidence. A classic example of this is the Hutton Inquiry which produced a good deal of evidence that suggested the suicide verdict was a nonsense – the lack of blood, the position of the body, the absence of a suicide note and so on – and instead came to the  bland and friendly to the Blair government view that it was undoubtedly suicide.

Experience shows that putting a judge in sole charge more or less guarantees that the outcome will be friendly to the government of the day and hoodwinks the public into thinking the process is impartial.  The situation is little better when a senior public servant is in charge. Consequently, there needs to be some check by those who are not part of the elite on a inquiry’s proceedings and the conclusions reach at the end of the inquiry. Perhaps a jury of ordinary citizens could be employed to  oversee the public inquiry. Perhaps whoever is placed in charge of an inquiry could be placed under oath and questioned about their findings once  their report is published.   What is certain is that the present system is a sham.



Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • William Gruff  On July 10, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    I knew that Mrs May was setting up a whitewash when I saw that Baroness Butler-Sloss is to head the inquiry. This is so obviously an establishment ‘damage limitation exercise’ that it can only lead to further demands for an independent inquiry, in precisely the way that the various investigations into Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough did. The truth will come out eventually, even if we have to spend hundreds of millions of pounds to get it.

    This disgraceful attempt to conceal as much of the truth as can still be concealed may be beneficial in the long run, if it leads to a real movement for political reform in England, and I’m not referring to regionalisation or proportional representation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: