Goddard to be grilled over quitting child abuse inquiry


British MPs are calling on New Zealand judge Dame Lowell Goddard to appear before Parliament for a grilling about her sudden resignation as Chair of the Child Sex Abuse Inquiry.

A lawyer who specialised in institutional child sex abuse here in New Zealand says there will be real doubts about whether she was the right person for the job until it's clear why she quit.

Dame Lowell knew the enormity of the task she took on, offering hope of justice to thousands of alleged victims of sexual abuse, until her sudden resignation.

"I felt bewildered and even betrayed because it has been so hard to find somebody who is acceptable to the victims and survivors of this inquiry," Sexual Abuse Survivors' Group member Phil Johnson said.

She was leading an unprecedented inquiry into state institutions entrusted with protecting children but instead accused of sexually abusing them or covering up the abuse.

"If she had been committed to stay through until the end I would have had no real doubts she was the right person for the role, but with her leaving now it's a big disappointment for all the survivors ," said lawyer Sam Benton.

For eight years Mr Benton represented people suing the Government for sexual abuse as children - not in the UK, but New Zealand.

"The scope of the numbers that we saw is massive and probably just the tip of the iceberg," he said.

He says in New Zealand there's a state of denial - an attitude that abuse on the scale seen in Britain doesn't exist.

"I know when Justice Goddard was first appointed, one of her public comments she made was, 'We don't have that sort of institutional abuse in New Zealand.'"

Dame Lowell has made no public comments since her shock resignation, and British MPs are now insisting she's hauled in front of Parliament to explain herself.

"Contractually she was supposed to give three months' notice before quitting, [but] the Government let her go immediately - no bridging the gap before appointing a new chair," Mr Benton said.

"I think it would be very difficult to take over, there having been three previous candidates, all of whom have resigned. It will take a very special and determined person to see it through to the end," Peter Garsden, of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, said.

The Government has promised victims and survivors the inquiry will not be delayed.

The fact the UK government had to travel all the way to New Zealand to find an independent, experienced and suitable person to lead the inquiry shows just how mammoth the task of replacing Dame Lowell will be.

It's an embarrassing political mess for the Government, but for the alleged victims of abuse, it's far, far worse.