From the Comboni Survivor Group to Alexis Jay, the Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child sexual Abuse.


Professor Alexis Jay OBE – Chair

Independent Inquiry into Child sexual Abuse

Milbank Tower


Our ref: DE/IICSA 25 November 2016

Dear Professor Jay

Open letter

We, (the Forde Park Survivor Group, the Stanhope Castle Survivor Group and the Comboni Survivor Group, Survivors of Organised and Institutional Abuse, F13, F25 and F35) wish to raise with you our shared concerns regarding this Inquiry, its apparent lack of direction, lack of discernible progress and its failure to allow and support Survivors in participating in this Inquiry. Together we represent over 20% of Survivor core participants in the IICSA. Our voices matter and we will be heard.

We start by saying clearly that we want the IICSA to continue, to work effectively and to succeed. But that support is not offered blindly or unconditionally. Thus far, we feel that the IICSA has seriously and repeatedly failed to live up to its promise to put Survivors at the heart of this Inquiry.

This Inquiry was set up by the former Home Secretary Theresa May, now Prime Minister, who described the Inquiry as a “once in a generation opportunity” to expose what went wrong in institutions and public bodies and to prevent it from happening again. In opening the Inquiry it was said that Survivors of child sexual abuse should be “at the centre of this Inquiry” and that “their views would inform the Inquiry throughout”. Survivors need to be allowed to take their place at the “centre of the Inquiry.”

Our wish, which we believe is shared by all Survivors, is that this statutory Inquiry achieves its aims of discovering the true extent of child sexual abuse that was permitted to take place in the past and ensuring that children are properly protected in the future. To do this, the Inquiry has to thoroughly investigate what happened in the past, as it is only by recognising and acknowledging 2

the past that we as a society can move forward and implement the lessons learned from the past so that children can be protected from organised and institutional abuse in the future.

However, despite the Inquiry having been established over two years ago, we have not seen or felt any progress. The Inquiry seems to be under constant threat and constant criticism. Rarely does a day go by without resignations of lawyers and comments in the press stating that the Inquiry is not fit for purpose or suggesting that it is falling apart at the seams.

Let us be clear, the members of our groups, and those who look to our groups to represent their experiences, are ready and willing to participate. Our lawyers have not resigned despite working without funding for up to a year. Our groups are not falling apart at the seams, despite the heavy stresses that this Inquiry has placed upon our members.

Survivors have been waiting for years, if not decades, for an inquiry such as this to take place; and once established, for that inquiry to start tackling the issues of enduring concern; to determinedly seek out the lessons from the past and begin to put into place the measures that will protect children from abuse in the future.

We have been told that you, the Chair, are conducting a review of the Inquiry and have promised that the views of Survivors will be taken into account before any changes are made to the investigations.

We wish to confirm that, as regards any proposed changes to the Inquiry, whilst Survivors will listen and consider any review of the Inquiry, we will not agree in advance without full and proper consultation to any modification or reduction in scope of the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference or Scope of investigations.

The Inquiry has been besieged by criticism and beset by resignations from many lawyers working within the Inquiry. To all intents and purposes the Inquiry appears to have stagnated. The press and the media coverage all point to problems with management, systems and engagement.

Neither Survivors nor their lawyers are being kept up to date as to any progress or about the possible future shape of the Inquiry. For many of us, this repeats the way that the police and the civil and criminal justice systems treated us after being abused. For many of us, the on-going problems with the Inquiry bring back the memories of the way we were abused and the way that we were treated after reporting that abuse.

All of us have been abused and then ignored or side-lined. The apparent mess being created by this Inquiry and the constant suggestions that the Inquiry is too broad or too unwieldy, with a stream of Chair appointments and resignations as well as lawyer appointments and resignations, is adding to our pain and the pain of other Survivors. ‘Here we go again’ we say and with good reason. 3

The press appear to be fascinated with the drama from within the Inquiry and the House of Commons seems to be treating the Inquiry as a political football. Indeed, on 21 November 2016 in the House of Commons, Sarah Newton, a junior Home Office minster, was forced to reiterate that she was “confident, as is the prime minister, as is the home secretary, in the ability of Professor Jay to lead this inquiry,” and that “She [you] has a distinguished career in social work and a longstanding dedication to child protection” after urgent questions were raised by other MPs regarding the current state of the Inquiry. The Home Affairs Select Committee continued its criticisms of the Inquiry yesterday.

Occasionally there is a statement from the Inquiry stating that Survivors are integral to the Inquiry process when in fact we are being left in the dark about what is happening and what will happen in the future. So we say, with good reason, that we are being ignored and side-lined once again.

Assertions that the Inquiry is taking on board, and will take on board, the opinion of Survivors have so far been nothing more than words. We ask you to make that sentiment and intention real and not just a platitude.

What we require is a firm and clear statement from you, and the Inquiry team, setting out what has gone wrong and laying down a clear path for the future progress of this Inquiry.


Professor Jay, we know that you have only been in the post for a short time, and that the task before you is a very large one. We want you to succeed, we are willing you to succeed, we want nothing more than to support you, but you must urgently give us reasons to have faith and for that support to continue.

What is required is a full hearing where the Chair of the Inquiry can properly address the criticisms that have been made and set out the scope and future dates of the Inquiry’s work. Such a meeting would allow Survivors and their representatives a chance to publicly state our concerns, in the clearest terms, and to have those concerns heard and addressed.

We are not happy, we are not satisfied, and we want to say so publicly.

However, we also want to say publicly that we want to support you. We want to give you the chance to show us that you understand why we are unhappy and to demonstrate to us that you have a clear road map and are determined to get to the destination of uncovering the truth and previous failings to start the process of healing and to protect children in the future. 4

We ask you to urgently schedule a hearing at which all of us can attempt to lance the boil of dissatisfaction and thereafter to recommit ourselves to the shared goals of truth, recovery and future child protection.

Signed on behalf of

Forde Park Survivors Stanhope Castle Survivors Comboni Survivors







SNAP, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, will be well known to most readers of this Blog as it is the world’s oldest and largest support group for persons abused by priests – but not only priests of the Catholic Church. It has also provided a place of focus to nuns, rabbis, bishops and Protestant ministers. Their basic quest is to urge “every single person who saw, suspected or suffered child sex crimes and cover ups in Catholic churches or institutions to protect kids” by calling the police, getting help by calling therapists, exposing wrongdoers by calling law enforcement agencies, getting justice by calling attorneys, and being comforted by calling support groups like theirs”.

The Comboni Survivors Group support these aims wholeheartedly – as this is the only way that children will be safer, adults will recover from the traumatic and long-term impacts of childhood abuse, criminals will be prosecuted, cover ups will be deterred, the truth will surface, lessons can be learned and safeguards can be put in place to protect the children of the future. In order to achieve these aims – and to encourage participation – an essential ingredient of the process is total and permanent confidentiality

The aims of SNAP are, indeed, also very closely aligned to those that the United Kingdom’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse also fosters. The ultimate aims of both are to relieve suffering, examine wrongdoing and bring institutions that have failed to protect children to full public account. That is why the Comboni Survivors Group (also known as “The Mirfield 12”) have given their full support to that Inquiry and why they have fully supported the “Truth” Project” that is associated with the Inquiry and which legally provides them with total anonymity. Indeed, the Comboni Survivor Group are also dignified as victims by being granted “Core Participant Status” within that Inquiry. This grants the Group a range of privileges that includes anonymity and a formal role, defined by legislation, in the Inquiry. They also have special rights in the Inquiry process which include receiving disclosure documentation, being represented and making legal submissions, suggesting questions and receiving advance notice of the Inquiry’s Report.

It is with some alarm, therefore, that a report by Brian Roewe, in the National Catholic Reporter on 2nd September 2016, stated that a “St. Louis federal judge levied sanctions last week against the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests for resisting a court order to turn over documents containing victim information”. SNAP had resisted the Order, it seems, as it had genuine concerns that to hand over the documents would have given rise to serious issues about survivor confidentiality going forward. The judge enforced the sanctions, which included a hefty fine, against SNAP after determining that SNAP had refused to comply with the court order and, in so doing, “had been willful and in bad faith.”

Brian Roewe further explained that David Clohessy, representing SNAP, had said that the order had worried the organization’s members. He had explained that he considered the pursuit of the documents was “part of an escalating campaign to discredit us and defund us” and to prevent victims, witnesses and law enforcement officials from seeking SNAP’s help”.

Lorenz-Moser, acting on behalf of SNAP, added that SNAP had turned over between 600 and 700 pages of documentation that included internal communications, but had omitted or redacted those concerning victims and advocacy work on their part. “If victims are scared that they don’t have confidentiality or their names might be disclosed to their abuser or to others, or that their private communications might be disclosed, they don’t come forward. Not only do they not come forward, but they don’t seek services that they need, they don’t feel protected, they don’t report crimes, and they don’t end up in a position to be able to vindicate themselves, and to stop the abuser from abusing other people,” she said.

The UK Comboni Survivor Group are not competent to comment on the niceties of US State Law. Yet, we do insist that any Justice procedure in any land should, in its pursuit of justice, examine the serious effects that any legally enforced disclosure of documentation relating to a vulnerable victim of abuse might have on that victim. Documentation, such as an abused victim’s voluntary statement, are made by the victim with an expectancy of absolute confidentiality. I suggest that it would be essential that a qualified medical doctor, cognizant of the effects that disclosure might have on the victim, be called as a witness before any such disclosure is made legally binding. An organization such as SNAP, should be able, without penalty, to honour the expectancy of confidentiality of a vulnerable victim of abuse – unless that victim has rescinded confidentiality – and medical evidence supports that is safe for the victim so to rescind it.

Written by Brian Mark Hennessy