LONDON — A New Zealand judge will lead a wide-ranging inquiry into alleged child sex abuse by powerful figures in British society, the U.K. government said Wednesday, an attempt to restart a troubled probe that has seen two previous chairwomen quit over perceived conflicts of interest.
Home Secretary Theresa May told lawmakers that New Zealand High Court judge Lowell Goddard was appointed new chair of the probe, which aims to find out whether British public agencies — including the BBC, churches and political parties — had neglected or covered up allegations of child sex abuse from the 1970s to protect politicians and others in power.
But the inquiry, announced in July, has been plagued by controversy from the start, with many victims questioning its impartiality and the extent of its powers.
May said she was "more determined than ever" to expose people and institutions who had failed abuse victims. The inquiry would have "the full co-operation of government and access to all relevant information, including secret information where appropriate", she said.
Child protection and the handling of past child sex abuse has dominated British headlines as it emerged that several well-known figures, including late BBC entertainer Jimmy Savile, used their positions to get away with abuse for decades.
Police, social services and local government officials across the country have also been accused of inaction amid investigations into the sexual exploitation of young girls by gangs of older men in several British cities.
Goddard's appointment came as the cabinet governing a town at the heart of the child sex abuse scandal resigned following a report damning their "wholly dysfunctional" political leadership.
An earlier report revealed that at least 1,400 children in the city of Rotherham had been subject to rape, violence and trafficking by gangs of older men from 1997 to 2013. Investigators on Wednesday described a culture of "complete denial" among local officials about the city's child sex abuse problem.