Witness support services delay stalls Telford CSE inquiry's meetings
A delay in setting up support services in Telford's child sexual exploitation inquiry has meant it has not been able meet with witnesses "as quickly as it would have liked".
The details were confirmed in an update on the inquiry's progress, which also revealed it has been contacted by 14 potential new witnesses.
The update told how tens of thousands of documents have so far been received by the inquiry from witnesses and from Telford & Wrekin Council.
It says that it expects to "receive significantly more material both from Telford & Wrekin Council and other stakeholders in due course".
The issue of delayed support for witnesses has also delayed the inquiry's ability to meet with them, according to the update.
It states: "Shortly following the final terms of reference being approved, the inquiry asked Telford & Wrekin Council to commission and pay for separate, dedicated support services, independent from both the inquiry and the council, which will provide support to any witness who wants it.
"The chair recognised that providing evidence may be a very difficult process for some people; this will be particularly the case for victims/survivors and their families, but for others too.
"It is extremely important that witnesses are properly supported throughout the inquiry process, as their continued contribution will be vital to the chair’s work. Therefore, the chair felt it was important to ensure that these services were accessible before individuals met with the inquiry and provided their evidence.
"Those services were due to be in place during the course of September 2019.
"Unfortunately, there has been a delay with these services being established. This means that the inquiry has not been able to make appointments and meet with witnesses as quickly as it would have liked. The chair is however hopeful that the support services will be in place over the coming weeks."
The update confirms that the inquiry, which is being chaired by Tom Crowther QC, has also contacted several potential witnesses.
It states: "Since the terms of reference have been finalised, the inquiry has spoken to a number of potential witnesses; in the majority of cases to answer queries about the process of giving evidence. This includes contact being made by 14 new witnesses.
"This is in addition to the potential witnesses that contacted the inquiry prior to the terms of reference being finalised.
"In addition, the inquiry has proactively contacted seven witnesses seeking their evidence and arranging meetings, where these individuals might be prepared to give evidence without the availability of witness support, if it was considered appropriate to do so.
"This has ensured that the inquiry’s work has been able to continue whilst the support service is still being established.
"The inquiry has now met with a small number of those witnesses, to take their evidence. The evidence that has been provided will be invaluable to the chair’s work."
The inquiry was sparked by media reports which suggested that there had been as many as 1,000 victims of CSE in Telford over 40 years.
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