A public inquiry has refused to publish evidence that could shed light on an allegation that Michael Gove intervened in a child sexual abuse investigation. He has been accused of trying, during his time as education secretary, to find out about an investigation into a priest suspected of abusing a boy at a boarding school.…
A public inquiry has refused to publish evidence that could shed light on an allegation that Michael Gove intervened in a child sexual abuse investigation.
He has been accused of trying, during his time as education secretary, to find out about an investigation into a priest suspected of abusing a boy at a boarding school.
The accusation has been made by two witnesses who have testified to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
The environment secretary has denied the allegation, saying it was inconceivable that he would have done so. IICSA has looked at the allegation, but said there was insufficient evidence to come to a conclusion about its veracity.
The inquiry has refused a request from the Guardian to make public the evidence, such as witness statements that it had gathered about the allegation. It has published some of the evidence, but not all.
In a statement, IICSA said : “All witness statements and evidence relied upon by the panel were published on the inquiry’s website.” Asked why some witness statements were published, and others were not, the inquiry said: “Evidence which is not relevant is not used or published”.
Two lawyers representing child abuse survivors have called for Gove to testify in front of the inquiry to clear up the allegation. Tom Perry, founder of the Mandate Now pressure group, which calls for a law requiring staff in schools and elsewhere to report child abuse allegations, said the inquiry was underfunded, which restricts its ability to investigate allegations thoroughly.
It has held hearings about alleged sexual abuse in Catholic schools. One of the allegations concerned a priest, known as F65 as he has been granted anonymity, who had been accused of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy at Downside Abbey, a leading Catholic school in Somerset.
At a public hearing in December 2017, Claire Winter, the deputy director of children’s services responsible for children’s social care at Somerset county council, told the inquiry that in 2010, F65 was under investigation. She said that F65 was to be suspended from active public ministry while the investigation continued.
Winter described an incident that she said was “very unusual” and unlike anything she had experienced. She described receiving two phone calls from the secretary of state for education and his office asking for the time at which the decision to suspend the priest was to be made. She said she refused to discuss it as it was a child protection matter.
Her testimony was backed up by Jane Dziadulewicz , the then safeguarding official for the Clifton diocese, responsible for child protection in that region. She has said she helped produce a report for Gove’s office on the progress of the Downside investigation following the calls.
In January 2018, IICSA said it was requesting more evidence about the allegation concerning Gove. In August, in a wider report into child abuse at Downside and another Catholic boarding school, IICSA said: “We take the view that there is insufficient evidence on this point from which to draw any conclusions.”
The inquiry also refused to answer questions about how many people gave evidence about the allegation concerning Gove, how many witness statements were taken, and whether these statements were circulated to victims and others taking part in the inquiry.
Winter is known to have made three statements, but the inquiry has only published one. One of Dziadulewicz’s statements has been published, but the inquiry declined to say if she gave further evidence.
In his one published witness statement, Gove said neither he nor members of his office had called Winter, adding that there are no official records of such calls.
He added: “I think it extraordinarily unlikely that I would have made such a call. I cannot conceive of the circumstances in which I would have wished to do so … The only possible explanation for Ms Winter’s evidence is that she is labouring under some kind of misunderstanding.”