The public inquiry into child sex abuse allegations against Lord Janner was in disarray this week after a witness’s last-minute request for complete anonymity meant it could no longer be public.
The late Jewish peer was first accused of sexually abusing children in care homes in Leicestershire in 1991, while he was an MP there. There were repeated allegations and investigations in subsequent years, but none resulted in charges.
The peer’s children, including barrister Daniel Janner, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner and social worker Marion, have steadfastly maintained their father’s innocence.
In the wake of the Jimmy Savile revelations, the Crown Prosecution Service reviewed the file on Janner and finally decided to charge him with 22 counts of sexual assault in 2015, when he had advanced dementia. He died later that year. A civil case was also later avoided.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA) had been due to hear evidence from alleged victims – their last chance to do so – but this week one witness claimed their legal right to complete anonymity, meaning the hearing can no longer be held in public. It has now adjourned proceedings.
Chris Jacobs, a lawyer representing the alleged victims, said they had “been involved in this process for a number of years and are entitled to a legitimate expectation that the investigation will proceed”.
He added: “Aside from the trauma and distress that such a decision would visit on my clients… the waste of public funds in stopping their process now would be substantial and disproportionate.”
Brian Altman QC, a lawyer working for the inquiry, said the witness’s request for full anonymity “will have a major impact on how much of any hearings in this investigation can take place in public”.
If the process continued to hear evidence on matters relating police and prosecutors’ response to allegations, he said “a very substantial part of it would have to be held in closed session”. Only “peripheral issues” could be heard in public.
He added that there were no good options, because discontinuing the process “would have a devastating effect” on the alleged victims “and would mean that important matters of public concern remain un-investigated by this Inquiry”.
A barrister representing Janner’s family said their father was “a law-abiding person,” adding: “The inability to report on the evidence that lies at the heart of this case undermines its fairness and any investigations can only be advanced at a disproportionate case.”
He added that reputations were being “interfered with, as is the grief and family name of his children,” before arguing that the public interest in continuing “is sorely diminished because there can be no public enquiry into the central allegations”.