The Child Sex Abuse Enquiry: One Family’s Story

Feb 25, 2021

The Jimmy Savile scandal – involving widespread sexual abuse of many children ‘in plain sight’ – was a landmark event which acted as a wake-up call to the authorities. The result was the setting up in March 2015 of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (“IICSA”) as a statutory inquiry so as to make recommendations to ensure the best possible protection for children in the future.

A number of organisations and institutions were identified (as ‘strands’) for investigation based on an established history of convictions. Among the fifteen or more included were the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church, Lambeth Council and residential schools.

However, there was also one individual uniquely selected for consideration – the late Lord Janner, a Leicestershire MP for the Labour Party and member of the House of Lords.

For obvious reasons it was a peculiar choice given that Lord Janner had not been prosecuted for any offences (although there was a macabre attempt to put him on trial when he was suffering from advanced dementia) and was to die before it concluded. He had, however, been dogged by untested allegations of child sexual abuse for a number of years and so IICSA (eventually) changed its terms of reference stating that it was only looking into the institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse involving him. Also, very unusually, the IICSA Chair, Professor Alexis Jay, made significant case-management rulings in connection with the Janner ‘strand’, most notably, holding the vast majority of its proceedings in private – the very opposite of a ‘public inquiry’.

The focus of this part of the inquiry then was to consider whether any attempts had been made to exert improper influence in order to hinder or prevent an institution from effectively investigating or otherwise responding to the allegations, or whether Lord Janner’s position as a prominent person in public life played a part in preventing him being prosecuted.

At this point the Janner family turned to Rupert Butler, Head of Legal Practice at Leverets, for support and advice. Rupert had previously worked with the Janner family members who were executors of the late Lord Janner’s estate since 2016, using his status as a direct access barrister practising at 3 Hare Court.

It became clear that IICSA would insist on pursuing its inquiry into allegations made against Lord Janner separately from what was called the ‘Westminster’ Strand of IICSA (which was looking into allegations of child sexual abuse committed by prominent people associated with the UK government as well as Members of Parliament, and political parties). At this point Rupert decided additional logistical and tactical support would be required and he brought in the team at his alternative practice, Leverets, handing over day-to-day responsibility for the conduct of the inquiry’s evidence hearings to solicitor (and Head of Development) Steph Davies and using Danny Friedman QC as lead counsel.

Leverets guided the Janner family through all of IICSA’s harrowing processes, advising on how best to protect their family and their father’s reputation. This required not only forensic rigour but sensitivity and empathy at a time when family members were grieving over his death. Not only were they dealing with the awfulness of the allegations made against their father, but also the obstacle that the terms of reference of the Inquiry prevented them being able to clear their father’s name. By focusing on the detail of the documentation disclosed by the Inquiry as part of the investigation, Leverets was able to question the credibility and validity of the allegations made.

The report of Professor Jay and her Panel is awaited later in 2021.

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