Prime Minister Teresa May is under fire for an alleged cover-up of allegations against judge
The Home Secretary was last night facing questions about whether she misled MPs after it emerged she knew of claims of racism and misconduct against the judge leading the child abuse inquiry.
Amber Rudd and Prime Minister Theresa May were dragged into allegations of a cover-up of serious complaints against Dame Justice Lowell Goddard.
The Home Office knew of ‘concerns about the professionalism and competence’ of the inquiry chairman a week before she quit on August 4, it was confirmed last night.
But Miss Rudd failed to reveal this to the Home Affairs Select Committee when she appeared before them on September 7. Instead, she told MPs the New Zealand judge was standing down as she felt ‘a long way from home’ and ‘found it too lonely’. The Home Secretary added: ‘That’s all the information I have.’
Last night critics said Mrs May, who set up the inquiry when she was home secretary and appointed Dame Lowell, covered up a ‘civil war’ at the heart of Britain’s biggest public inquiry to avoid damaging her Tory leadership bid.
It also emerged Miss Rudd knew of allegations that Dame Lowell made racist remarks about Asian men and was rude to staff on July 29. Yet she still agreed to a generous £90,000 payoff for the judge, who cost taxpayers almost £700,000 for her 18 months in charge.
It has also emerged that inquiry staff were secretly reporting about the chaos to Liz Sanderson, Mrs May’s special adviser, and Mark Sedwill, the Home Office’s Permanent Secretary, who sat beside Miss Rudd as she made her submission to the parliamentary committee.
As the row over the beleaguered inquiry turned into a political scandal, it can also be revealed that:
- Mr Sedwill faces being grilled by the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday about his role in the alleged cover-up;
- Victims groups said the chaos in the inquiry had left some vulnerable sex abuse survivors seriously ill;
- The current chairman, Professor Alexis Jay, plans to release a statement on Monday to water down key elements of the inquiry, to the anger of victims who have threatened to mount a judicial review;
- Professor Jay is facing questions about a conflict of interest with one of the inquiry’s core participants, who claims he used to work with her when she was a social worker.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd failed to reveal concerns about the professionalism of Dame Justice Lowell Goddard, who was leading the child abuse inquiry
Yesterday Dame Lowell issued a long statement denying she was rude to staff or made racist remarks.
SHE GOT A FREE FLAT, FLIGHT HOME AND £500,000 A YEAR
Dame Lowell was paid a salary of £360,000 plus a generous expenses package including £110,000 annual rental allowance, £12,000 for bills, and a car and driver for official business.
Her home in Britain was a taxpayer-funded flat in Knightsbridge.
She was entitled to four business-class return flights a year to New Zealand for her and her husband, plus two return economy flights for her children, with annual costs estimated at £55,000.
She admitted in court she was uncertain about aspects of UK law, it is reported.
It is also alleged she suffered memory lapses.
She had spent 44 working days in Australia or New Zealand since the start of the inquiry, and further 30 outside the UK on annual leave.
Her severance package was reportedly worth £90,000, approved by Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
She said: ‘I categorically never said that ‘Britain has so many paedophiles because it has so many Asian men’. I never expressed shock at the number of ethnic people in Britain.’
The judge described the allegations, reported in The Times, as ‘falsities’, ‘malicious’ and part of a ‘vicious campaign’, adding: ‘It is totally untrue that I was guilty of ‘racist, appalling, intolerable, catastrophic’ conduct.’
Addressing criticism over her pay package, Dame Lowell, 67, said she was not motivated by money or perks but by ‘a desire to help the country solve its awful problems with institutional child sexual abuse.’
But last night she faced new allegations as a Westminster source said: ‘Things had got so toxic they had to bring in a mediator between her and other panel members.
‘Matters came to a head when she asked for two first-class airline tickets home but requested she fly via Singapore so she could watch her racehorse run.
‘Staff were not happy. It was considered completely unreasonable.’
Tim Loughton, acting chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: ‘Theresa May has serious questions to answer. The strong suggestion is that concerns were reported back to the Home Office. I can’t believe they would not have been passed to the Home Secretary.’
Dame Lowell, 67, said she was not motivated by money or perks but by ‘a desire to help the country solve its awful problems with institutional child sexual abuse’
He described the crisis as a ‘sideshow caused by a bunch of prima donnas’, adding: ‘There is a lot more that has not yet come out about other flaws in Dame Lowell’s character. We do want to challenge [her] and have written to her again asking her to appear before the committee.’
Last night Westminster sources claimed Mrs May sought to ‘keep a lid’ on the chaos at the inquiry as she was desperate to avoid another embarrassment after two chairmen she appointed had quit.
SHE GOT JOB OVER SKYPE
The New Zealand judge landed her £500,000 job after a Skype call and on the recommendation of a school friend, it emerged yesterday.
The Home Office had been in a ‘blind panic’ after the resignation of the two previous chairmen, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf, and could not afford a third mistake. They wanted to find another woman, and she could not be from England or Wales.
In their frantic search for a replacement, officials scanned the Commonwealth and contacted New Zealand’s chief justice, Dame Sian Elias – a former school friend of Dame Lowell. The pair had both studied law and became New Zealand’s first female QCs on the same day in 1988.
Dame Lowell was appointed after a Skype call with Theresa May, then Home Secretary, and her special adviser Liz Sanderson.
Speaking about her £360,000 salary – which is more than double that of the Prime Minister – and the generous perks she received, including a £110,000 housing allowance, she insisted yesterday: ‘I was not motivated to commit to this difficult inquiry for money or perks. I was already in receipt of an equivalent salary package in New Zealand.’
One source said: ‘If this had come out then it would have been devastating for her chances. It would have raised huge questions about her judgment.
‘It is inconceivable that if the Permanent Secretary [Mr Sedwill] was told there were problems he would not have told her.’
Mr Sedwill, the Home Office’s top mandarin, is expected to be hauled before the Home Affairs Committee over his role on Tuesday, at the same time as fourth chairman Professor Jay, who is also expected to face questioning about whether she knew of the allegations against Dame Lowell.
Last night Andrew Lavery, of the victims group White Flowers Alba, said: ‘A civil war has been going on behind the scenes which is a national disgrace.
‘This is having a severe impact on the mental health of the victims and survivors involved, some of whom have become seriously ill as a result.’
There has also been claims of bullying against the inquiry’s top lawyer, Ben Emmerson QC, who quit after being suspended by Professor Jay over concerns about his ‘leadership’.
His departure was linked to that of his colleague Elizabeth Prochaska who left weeks earlier.
A Home Office spokesman said: ‘On July 29 the Home Office was made aware of concerns about the professionalism and competence of Justice Goddard.
‘The Permanent Secretary advised the inquiry that as they were independent they should raise this directly with the Chair. It is understood that they did this. No formal complaint was made to the Home Office.’
Downing Street refused to comment last night.
SHE IS DEFENDED BY HER ANTI-PRESS CELEBRITY LAWYERS
Dame Lowell Goddard is using one of the country’s most aggressive libel firms to defend her reputation.
Carter-Ruck is renowned for the tactics it uses to stop damaging stories about its clients from being published or to obtain damages for them if they have allegedly been defamed.
Yesterday the law firm – which has represented governments, politicians, multi-national companies, businessmen and celebrities and claims to have ‘unrivalled expertise’ in advising those who are ‘subject to adverse or intrusive media’ – would only say it was ‘taking instructions’ from Dame Lowell.
The time difference between the UK and New Zealand undoubtedly made the process difficult, although the firm, which was founded by the late Peter Carter-Ruck, was still able to issue a long statement from Dame Lowell yesterday afternoon.
Sources said it is likely it will become clear next week whether Dame Lowell will issue legal proceedings over the highly damaging allegations made in The Times.
SAM GREENHILL: Catastrophic reign of ‘racist tyrant who quit in a fit of pique before going out for lunch’
Dame Lowell Goddard ruled her inquiry like a ‘monstrous tyrant’ and finally quit in a fit of petulance before going out for lunch, it was claimed yesterday.
Her doomed reign was allegedly peppered with expletive-ridden tantrums and racist diatribes that left horrified staff feeling ‘totally paralysed’.
But last night, the New Zealand judge issued a stinging rebuttal of the claims against her, adding that the lunch on the day she resigned was ‘simply sandwiches’ with her husband on his birthday.
She rejected accusations that she flew into rages at junior staff, insisting relations were so warm she even greeted the cleaner by name every day.
In a 1,600-word personal statement, Dame Lowell described a series of allegations about her 18-month leadership of the beleaguered child abuse inquiry as ‘completely untrue’.
Dame Justice Goddard left staff ‘paralysed’ by her tantrums and diatribes, and according to a colleague ‘behaved like a monstrous tyrant’
Her denials came after The Times published a damning account by insiders who said her tantrums rendered Britain’s biggest ever public inquiry completely dysfunctional. The newspaper said she once threatened to go home unless she got her own way, allegedly bawling: ‘I’m going to pack my bags, go back to New Zealand and take this inquiry down with me.’ She denies ever saying this.
A colleague quoted by the newspaper said: ‘She behaved like a monstrous tyrant and we were all horrified and saying this can’t be allowed to carry on, but internally we felt paralysed.’
Others said they felt they were being led by ‘a very angry child’, and constantly had to ‘tiptoe’ around her. But Dame Lowell rejected ever being ‘rude and abusive’ to junior staff, insisting she had a ‘warm relationship’ with her team, including the cleaner. She added: ‘I knew those people by name and made a point of greeting them personally every day.’
She also rejected claims that she had expressed ‘shock’ to see so many ‘ethnic people’ and that she used ‘racist language’ like something out of the 1950s.
Former chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Lowell Goddard attending a rape and sexual abuse centre in Liverpool. Her tenure last only 18 months
An allegation that she once remarked she had to travel 50 miles from London to see a white face was also untrue, she said, along with the claim that she stunned staff by saying Britain had so many paedophiles ‘because it has so many Asian men’.
A member of staff told The Times: ‘You’ve got someone making racist comments who clearly has a racist attitude, and nobody says anything because we’re all pussy-footing around.’
Eventually, it was said that a senior official warned her: ‘You can’t say those things in our country.’ But Dame Lowell said this was untrue, insisting: ‘I have never used racially derogatory language.’ She added it was important to ‘acknowledge people’s ethnicity’ but only by using ‘neutral language’.
In a mark of how surreal the saga has become, Dame Lowell also had to deny nursing ‘a deep reverence’ for the Royal Family. The judge said it was untrue that she was ‘overly impressed by breeding’ or judged people by their social status.
She was said to have suggested Prince Charles’s ‘breeding’ meant he could not be mixed up with the illegal activities of a bishop he was friends with, who was jailed last year for offences against young men. The insiders’ shocking portrayal of the 67-year-old judge flies in the face of the image of an immaculately turned out figure the public came to know.
It came as a surprise when she abruptly resigned on August 4 in a terse two-sentence letter of resignation to Home Secretary Amber Rudd. According to The Times, she sent it to the Home Office in the morning and then went out for lunch. Her resignation was swiftly accepted, but after lunch Dame Lowell tried to withdraw it. Her reversal was not accepted.
Amber Rudd did not reveal the allegations against Dame Justice Goddard
Last night, Judge Goddard said: ‘The imputation that I sent my resignation letter ‘before leaving for lunch’ in a cavalier and uncaring fashion is totally untrue. I had a prior engagement to meet my husband for lunch as it was his birthday. In the event and under the circumstances we simply brought sandwiches back to my office and ate them there.’
It now seems clear that her final day was the dramatic culmination of an internal plot to oust her. Convinced the inquiry was doomed with her at the helm, senior staff passed their concerns to the Home Office and Downing Street, knowing Theresa May was the only person – under the terms of the judge’s contract – who could fire her. They are said to have ‘prayed for an intervention’ from the PM.
One insider said: ‘Goddard should never have been appointed and she should have been removed so much earlier than she was. She was catastrophic.’
A key figure is John O’Brien, the secretary to the inquiry, who previously held a senior role at the Home Office and is in charge of liaising between the two. One source told The Times: ‘We were told that it was all being reported back, including the racist comments that she made. John kept telling us that the Home Office knew about all the stuff that was going on.’
The Home Office yesterday said it was made aware of concerns about Dame Lowell’s ‘professionalism and competence’ the week before she quit.
Last night Dame Lowell complained she had given up a ‘lifestyle I enjoyed’ in New Zealand to come and work for the inquiry. Now she is back on the other side of the world, one of the biggest questions for the inquiry seems to be why she was ever appointed in the first place.