My Lords, the Government have no plans to meet representatives of Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform to discuss the operation of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. The inquiry operates independently of government and its independence is crucial to its effectiveness.
My Lords, Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Edward Heath, Lords Brittan, Bramall and Janner, Paul Gambaccini and former MP Harvey Proctor were all prominent, all accused, and all treated by the media as guilty. They were never tried, but their reputations were trashed. They were never convicted, and therefore innocent in law. Those who are alive received damages; for the dead, there was not even an apology. Do Ministers really believe, in their heart of hearts, that the police invasion of their homes, with worldwide coverage through a lack of anonymity, and IICSA once again dragging their names through the mud of an inquiry—again, being transmitted around the world—is fair and just? Is it not fair to ask that these and many other cases are on an agenda between government and Fair?
My Lords, I reiterate that the inquiry is not looking into whether Lord Janner or anyone else—the noble Lord mentioned a number of people—was guilty of any crimes, but at how institutions such as the police, which the noble Lord mentioned, responded to the allegations made against these people. The inquiry’s focus is deliberately on the conduct of institutions and how the allegations were dealt with. As noble Lords will know, the police guidance has been updated to make it clear that people should not be named before they are charged unless there is a public interest reason to do so.
Has not enough unfair damage been done to the reputations of the distinguished people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred? Should it not be our overriding duty to expunge it?
I totally understand my noble friend’s point, and I know the feelings there are in this House about this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has a Private Member’s Bill going through the House; on some of its substance, HMICFRS will undertake a review, and the Government want to wait until the outcome of that before taking any further action.
My Lords, it is clear from the Gatwick Airport drone incident in December that current guidelines—even the updated guidelines that the noble Baroness talked about—are not sufficient to protect those falsely accused of any offence from adverse publicity. How many more innocent people are going to have their lives ruined before the Government legislate?
The noble Lord comes back to his Private Member’s Bill, in the sense that he is talking about the media. His Bill deals with media reporting before charge and after arrest. Again, I say to him that DCMS is minded to wait until HMICFRS has reviewed police guidance on media relations before considering whether further action should be taken.
My Lords does the noble Baroness agree that we should always remember the victims, those who are raped and abused; recognise that these crimes are underreported; and make every effort to ensure that victims come forward and the perpetrators are brought to justice?
I am very glad the noble Lord has asked that question. Quite often in these situations the victims can be overlooked, and thousands of accounts of sexual abuse have now been shared with the Truth Project, which noble Lords and others will have seen on the television. We must not overlook the victims. We must ensure that all the processes are in place in order that perpetrators will be brought to justice. Victims are, therefore, at the heart of what we do.
The noble Earl raises a very important question, because of course some victims will never recover from the abuse and trauma they have suffered. The whole approach now of early intervention and putting a package of support around those who are utterly traumatised, and may be for the rest of their life, is absolutely key to any recovery that might be possible.
It is clear that there will be a mechanism for witnesses’ accounts to be examined and questioned. It will not be a one-sided process at all.