Interview with Lord Laming

Lord Laming  
Lord Laming

Interview with Lord Laming carried out by Lauren Revans,
news editor with Community Care.


What was your first reaction when you were told you were
to chair the inquiry?

First of all, I wasn’t told. I was invited to consider,
then persuaded to do it because conducting inquiries of this kind
is a huge responsibility and it wasn’t something I was
looking for. But I was persuaded because the range of services
involved meant that the whole system had been in some way in touch
with Victoria and yet it didn’t protect her. So the thing
that persuaded me to do it was the possibility of making
recommendations to improve the safeguarding of children so this
kind of thing can’t happen again.

Who was doing the persuading and how long did it

Ministers. The secretary of state wanted to make plain that
there was going to be an inquiry so it wasn’t something that
I could consider for months. I was treated very fairly but there
were deadlines to be met.

How did you go about selecting your

I decided that because of the range of services involved that I
would need at least four advisers and I wanted to have people who
had day by day direct involvement in the provision of services. It
is some time since I managed services directly, therefore I wanted
people around me who had current – not former –
experience in service provision. So I asked the different
departments of government who were the people who had recently
contributed to matters to do with children’s services and I
made other enquiries to organisations I knew about, and then drew
up a shortlist, interviewed them, then appointed them.

The inquiry report is with ministers 16 months later
than originally expected. What caused the delay?

There is a tendency to always under estimate how long these
things take. But because Victoria had only been alive in this
country for 10 months, it is understandable that it may have been
thought to involve less than it did. But the fact that we had to
see so many witnesses was an indication of just how many people had
an involvement with Victoria and how big the issues became.

How did you go about appointing the inquiry’s
legal team?

I was concerned to get a counsel to the inquiry who had an
understanding of the issues and had experience of inquiry work. So
we made enquiries and had a list of names, interviewed, and
selected Neil [Garnham]. Neil had previously worked on the Ladbroke
Grove Inquiry in a more junior position so he was very familiar
with inquiries. If you do one inquiry, you learn about how all
inquiries work. And then he decided, with my blessing, that he
needed two junior counsels. One was a woman who is a specialist in
children and families legislation and the other was more general
but extremely able.

You said you were committed to these values of rigour,
openness and independence back in May 2001 when I interviewed you
shortly after your appointment. Do you believe you managed to
achieve this throughout this inquiry?

Yes I do. I totally cut myself off – and my colleagues as
best they could – from all other contacts, influences,
anything that could in any way be even perceived to influence the
inquiry. I was determined that the only factors that would
influence the report was the evidence that we heard in the inquiry
room. And we wanted everything that was heard in the inquiry room
not only to be in public but to go on the website so that anyone
who wanted to understand what was happening in the inquiry could
look at the website every night – the transcript was on the website
by 8pm. So I do think it was as open and fair as possible. But also
very rigorous. I don’t imagine that any of the witnesses that
came before the inquiry enjoyed the experience.

What were your most memorable moments from phase

There was one thing that upset me greatly, and that was when one
of our witnesses – a policeman – was attacked while
giving evidence by someone who had nothing to do with the inquiry
and, as far as I know, had no grievances with the police and
certainly not with this particular policeman. It was a terrible
experience to see a witness attacked from behind and a pot of paint
poured over his head. It had a terrible effect on the poor fellow
– he had to go to hospital and have his hair cut off, and his
eyes, mouth and nose irrigated. I was very upset about that. I
think that giving evidence to an inquiry is arduous enough without
that. And what it meant was that we had to increase security even
more, when I had tried to keep the proceedings as relaxed for the
witnesses as possible and not to make giving evidence even more
onerous than it had to be.

What about the witnesses – were any of them
particularly memorable?

Marie-Therese Kouao was very difficult in giving evidence, in
contrast to Carl Manning, who was very helpful. But I think that
the other witnesses all tried in their own way to co-operate with
the inquiry.

What about Carole Baptiste’s initial failure to
show up, and the late documents from the NSPCC, Haringey Council
and the Social Services Inspectorate?

Conducting an inquiry of this kind is difficult enough without
documentation not being provided at the right time and in the right
way, and I did find it annoying because it frustrated at the time
the work of the inquiry. But I never felt, and still don’t
feel, that any of the witnesses ever attempted to deliberately
withhold their submissions. It was not a question of deliberately
trying to avoid giving evidence.

Have you had any feedback from the government

No. The government has behaved impeccably throughout. At no time
from the day that I was appointed to this day has any government
minister or any officials sought to have contact with me, send me
material, or influence me in any way. So when I handed over the
report to them it was the printed version. There was no first
draft, nor was there any wink wink, nudge nudge, hint hint. I
wanted – and I know ministers felt this strongly too –
to be able to look anyone in the eye at any time and say the
inquiry was wholly independent and that there was absolutely no
contact, whether formal or informal.

At what stage did the advisers leave you to write the

The report was a joint effort. The advisers and their
authorities were committed from day one and still are now. At
different sections of the report, they were involved at different
times, depending on the section we were working on. The advisers
read and commented on every word of the report and I am very
grateful to them. They have been absolutely 100 per cent in support
of the inquiry and me.

So how did you go about writing the final report? How do
you decide what to put in and what to leave out?

That is a continuous judgement that you have to go through all
the time, deciding ‘is this directly relevant to what
ultimately will be the findings of the report and its
recommendations?’. It requires a degree of concentration and

What is the biggest single thing that you regret most
from your time as chairperson of the inquiry?

The pain of what happened to Victoria is always present. The
missed opportunities and the failure to protect her was something
that weighed incredibly with me and I hope that that is reflected
in the report.

It must have been quite difficult when Victoria’s
parents were there?

They were there every day during phase one. They were both
courageous and dignified throughout.

With the report now in the hand of the ministers, are
you anxious about how the government will respond to

I’m not anxious about what the government is going to say
because ministers have told me that they will read the report with
great care and they will take seriously the issues. They clearly
have a wider remit than an inquiry of this kind, and I hope the
report will prove to be extremely helpful to them as they seek to
improve services for children and families.

How do you feel about the inevitable attention from the
media again?

It goes with the job. I will do my best to make sure the key
messages are communicated.

Finally, do you think the inquiry and your report will
satisfy the wider public concerns around child protection that you
mentioned in your interview with Community Care in May

I do believe that there are wider issues beyond Victoria. I hope
very much that the report has set out the ways in which they can be
properly addressed. We have done our best. I have done my best to
produce recommendations which I hope will strengthen the services
for children and families.

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