Prof Alexis Jay is to take over as chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse following the resignation of Dame Lowell Goddard, the home secretary has announced.
Jay, a child protection expert with more than 30 years’ experience, led the official inquiry into the Rotherham scandal, which found that at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town between 1997 and 2013.
Amber Rudd, announcing Jay’s appointment, said: “She has a strong track record in uncovering the truth and I have no doubt she will run this independent inquiry with vigour, compassion and courage.”
Goddard, a New Zealand judge who was the third person to have been named as inquiry chair, offered her resignation last week, saying the inquiry had been beset by a “legacy of failure”.
Jay said she was committed to ensuring the inquiry did everything it had set out to do and did so “with pace, with confidence and with clarity.
“Be in no doubt – the inquiry is open for business and people are busier than ever working hard to increase momentum. The panel and I are determined to make progress on all parts of the inquiry’s work, including speaking to victims and survivors,” she said.
“I am determined to overcome the challenges along the way. I will lead the largest public inquiry of its kind and together with my fellow panel members we will fearlessly examine institutional failures, past and present, and make recommendations so that the children of England and Wales are better protected now and in the future.”
The home secretary’s rapid move to replace Goddard after her unexpected departure last week has been enabled by powers under the Inquiries Act, which allow her to appoint a current member of the inquiry panel as a replacement chair.
“Let there be no doubt – our commitment to this inquiry is undiminished,” said Rudd. “We owe it to victims and survivors to confront the appalling reality of how children were let down by the very people who were charged to protect them, and to learn from the mistakes of the past.”
It is understood that the salary package that Jay will be paid will be “significantly less” than the £500,000 a year paid to Goddard, which included a rental allowance of £110,000 and four return flights to New Zealand. Jay’s terms and conditions are to be published on the inquiry website in due course.
Jay has been a member of the inquiry panel from the start in July 2014. Her appointment was called for by some survivor groups, who said she had a good track record and was not seen to have any establishment links. She is a former social worker who was brought up by a single parent in a tenement in Edinburgh.
After stepping down as Scotland’s chief social work adviser in 2013, she took on the inquiry into child sexual abuse in Rotherham before moving on to review Northern Ireland’s safeguarding children’s boards.
Jay’s appointment was not welcomed by all survivors’ groups. Andi Lavery of the group White Flowers Alba, who has core participant status at the inquiry, said survivors did not want a social worker running the inquiry as members of the profession were among those who had failed to protect them. He said they wanted a legal figure such as the QC Michael Mansfield to be offered the job.
But Gabrielle Shaw, of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, welcomed the announcement: “We’re delighted that a new chair has been chosen so quickly, so that [the inquiry’s] vital work can continue smoothly. Alexis Jay is likely to be a popular choice with many survivors, as she has done such good work on Rotherham and as part of the inquiry panel,” she said.
Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons home affairs committee, also welcomed the appointment. “Prof Jay is clearly a suitable candidate with vast experience in these matters, is already a panel member, and has been commended for her inquiry in Rotherham,” he said.
“I am sure the home secretary will have noted that Prof Jay will be the first chair of the inquiry without legal or judicial qualifications. I hope it will be fourth time lucky, as we must not let the victims and survivors down.”
Goddard has been asked to appear before his committee on 6 September to explain her resignation.