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CSE inquiry start at the 'final hurdle'

Telford | News | Published:

The commissioners of the Telford child sexual exploitation inquiry are acting transparently and involving survivors in the process, a committee has heard.

A representative of CSE survivors told the cross-party oversight panel that they feel they are at the “final hurdle” before the inquiry is up and running.

But some councillors raised concerns about whether information from the inquiry could derail future prosecutions, and who acts as “whistleblower” if the chair comes under undue influence.

The Inquiry Member Advisory group was meeting to discuss a draft job advert for the inquiry chair and other documents.

Law firm Eversheds Sutherland International LLP were formally appointed as inquiry commissioners last month.

‘Mandie’ – a member of the Survivors’ Committee – told the meeting: “Eversheds have come along to speak to us about three weeks ago and talked about the process and the timescale, and were the survivors ready.

“We left following the meeting feeling that, finally, it’s at that final hurdle now.

“The process has been transparent, as far as we are concerned, because we’ve been able to get views from the survivors to put their point across.”

In a progress report for the committee, Eversheds Sutherland say they expect to interview candidates in April and appoint the inquiry chair in May.

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The draft job advert, which will be published after approval by Telford and Wrekin Council’s cabinet, says the purpose of the inquiry is to “identify if, and where, public and other services have failed”.

Committee member Tim Nelson suggested including “or are failing”.

“We need to include the present tense in potential failures,” he said.

Councillor Nelson also questioned the draft data-sharing agreement with Telford and Wrekin Council, which the chair, once appointed, would be expected to sign.

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He said: “‘If the commissioning body or any third party attempts to influence the independent chair, it is to be raised with the authority’s whistleblowing officer – and that is Telford and Wrekin Council.

“And the third party, in that instance, could be Telford and Wrekin Council, trying to influence the inquiry.

“The independent chair would need to raise that with the council’s own whistleblower? Is that right?”

Sarah Jones, a partner in Eversheds Sutherland’s inquiries and investigations team, said the data-sharing agreement was still in draft form.

“It’s something that has been put forward to us by the council,” she said.

“It’s by no means the final version.”

Councillor Stephen Bentley asked what would happen if the inquiry chair resigned before its conclusion.

He said: “In the event of a termination, what would happen to the evidence collated by the chair, and should that evidence be able to be re-presented following the appointment of another chair?

“In the event that any of that material were disclosed, legally it would not be admissible in court.”

Monitoring officer Jonathan Eatough said: “What we’ve got here is a fairly standard document regarding the management of information under data protection legislation.

“You’re moving into a situation where there are significant breakdowns in the relationship with the chair.

“This wouldn’t mean that the inquiry would terminate or the information would be destroyed. We would make provisions in securing that information.

“We’re potentially talking about massively sensitive information. One of the fundamental principles is that that is always protected.”

A progress update from Eversheds Sutherland and the recruitment pack, along with the Advisory Group’s comments, will be discussed by Telford and Wrekin’s cabinet when it meets today.

Story by Local Democracy Reporter Alex Moore

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