The frustration in the voice of the former senior policeman asked to help safeguard young Jewish boys in British yeshivas was palpable as he gave evidence to the national inquiry into child sexual abuse this week.
Listen to Charedi cultural concerns? He certainly had, he said. Reassure the yeshivas? Oh yes. Stress that this was about safeguarding and not about the curriculum? Of course. He’d done all that and then some, he said, but with every hint of progress there’d be something else, some bartering, some “quid pro quo” sought.
Jim Gamble’s evidence this week should be heard by the education secretary Gavin Williamson for several reasons, not least his “whack-a-mole” description of yeshivas hiding their location, only to up sticks and move the second authorities found out. Yet one of his observations, which got much less attention, was the difficulties he had getting engagement from Charedi leaders.
He wrote to the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations requesting that they nominate someone to liaise with him on child safeguarding. In their reply he was told they had nominated someone to liaise with him on fire, and health and safety.
What he concluded, and what he was told informally by Charedi contacts, was that “there is no central authority, no oversight of these yeshivas”. Indeed, many are owned by mystery persons in the United States and Israel, so how could there be? He spoke of a “brick wall” when it came to Charedi intransigence on the matter of child safeguarding. This cannot but ring deafeningly loud sirens in central government, where ministers should be asking: why the reluctance?
As a Jewish newspaper, we have long hoped for a negotiated solution, something that the yeshivas can live with but which reassures the authorities that children are safe. It is plainly obvious that this is never going to happen if the Charedi world is asked to sign up voluntarily. The answer, sadly, now lies in primary legislation, to give local authorities the legal rights they need to inspect and enforce compliance.