Child abuse survivors accuse Home Office of inquiry appointment cover-up

Survivors of child abuse are furious after they say a senior Home Office official went "absolutely nuts" at them over questions they asked in a meeting intended to promote transparency in a paedophile inquiry that has spread through the British Establishment amid accusations of a cover-up and is due to start today, a year after it was first announced by home secretary Theresa May.

They also accuse the Home Office of "cloak-and-dagger" behaviour and are demanding that it make public the agendas and minutes of the meetings – something the Home Office has refused to do, arguing that releasing the information is not in the public interest.

The inquiry was set up after accusations that high-profile paedophiles were operating in Westminster in the 1980s and will investigate whether "public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales".

The meetings with survivors were arranged in November, December and February to consult them on who should lead the inquiry after first Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss and then Fiona Woolf were forced to step down over their links to the Establishment.

The survivors suggested Michael Mansfield QC and Baroness Hale, a Supreme Court judge, but say they were then simply informed someone else had been appointed – Justice Lowell Goddard, due to make a speech on the commencement of the inquiry today. One victim, Andy Kershaw, sent a Freedom of Information request before the final meeting asking the Home Office who it had consulted in the decision to appoint Goddard.

The FoI request was turned down, so in the final meeting, Kershaw, a survivor of abuse at Forde Park, a school in south Devon, asked John O'Brien, then the department's director of safeguarding, to tell him whom the Home Office had consulted. When O'Brien refused, Kershaw asked the room whether anyone present had backed Goddard. At this point, O'Brien became angry.

"He prevaricated. Then he went absolutely nuts and told me I couldn't ask that question, then he shut me down," says Kershaw. He then sent another FoI request in May, asking that the minutes and agendas be made available, a request the Home Office has now denied.

Both Kershaw and another survivor, Ian McFadyen, who was present at the meetings and confirms Kershaw's account, say that no sensitive information was discussed or allegations made during the meetings.

"They are using survivors' confidentiality to hide behind releasing minutes," says McFadyen. "This cloak and dagger behaviour, it's stomach-churning. I'm disgusted. I engaged with it, and I'm angry that I did."

"It's supposed to be an open and transparent process," says Kershaw, "and even when it comes to simple questions, they are stonewalling us."

The Home Office did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.

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