Dame Lowell Goddard has resigned as the head of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.
The New Zealand high court judge – selected after two previous chairwomen quit – said the probe had already made “very real gains for victims”.
The investigation was set up in March 2015 to examine claims made against public and private institutions.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said a new chairperson would be appointed and work would continue “without delay”.
The reasons for Justice Goddard’s resignation are unclear but BBC home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds described it as a “crisis” for the inquiry.
- Who is Dame Lowell Goddard?
- Resignation letter and home secretary’s response: In full
- Why was the inquiry set up and how will it work?
However, it comes on the same day the Times reported she had spent more than 70 days working abroad or on holiday during her time in charge.
An inquiry spokesman told the newspaper Justice Goddard had spent 44 working days in New Zealand and Australia on inquiry business in the first financial year of the inquiry and that she is entitled to 30 days’ annual leave.
The inquiry was set up to investigate allegations made against local authorities, religious organisations, the armed forces and public and private institutions in England and Wales, as well as people in the public eye.
It will be conducted on a statutory basis – meaning it has the power to compel witnesses to give evidence.
Baroness Butler-Sloss stood down as chairwoman in July 2014 following questions over the role played by her late brother, Lord Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s.
Her replacement Dame Fiona Woolf resigned following questions over her links to establishment figures.
The inquiry’s preliminary hearings began in March at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. A panel of advisers had also been selected and the inquiry’s terms of reference agreed.
In February 2017 there will be two weeks of hearings relating to the sexual abuse of British child migrants, who moved to parts of the British Empire between 1920 and 1970.
Public hearings into allegations of abuse relating to Lord Janner are due to start on 7 March and are expected to finish by the end of May.
The Labour peer, who died in December, was accused of sex offences against children – which his family deny.
In a statement issued after the home secretary revealed she had stood down, Dame Lowell Goddard said she was “confident there have been achievements and some very real gains for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in getting their voices heard”.
Dame Lowell said she decided to take on the role because of her “relevant experience and track record in the area” but it was “an incredibly difficult step to take, as it meant relinquishing my career in New Zealand and leaving behind my beloved family”.
She added: “The conduct of any public inquiry is not an easy task, let alone one of the magnitude of this. Compounding the many difficulties was its legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off and with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh.”
In a resignation letter sent to Ms Rudd, she wrote: “I regret to advise that I am offering my resignation as chair of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, with immediate effect. I trust you will accept this decision.”
Ms Rudd wrote back: “I know that this will have been a difficult decision for you to make, and something you will have carefully considered. I was sorry to receive your letter, but I accept your decision.”
She went on: “I know how personally committed you have been to ensuring that the inquiry is a success for those at its heart: the survivors and the victims.
“You have consistently demonstrated your desire to leave no stone unturned in order that the voices of those victims might be heard.
“It is a testament to your commitment that you have taken the difficult decision to stand down now, having set the inquiry firmly on course, and allow someone else to lead it through to the end. With regret, I agree that this the right decision.”
Who is Justice Goddard?
- Born in Auckland, New Zealand
- Third person to be appointed chair of the inquiry since it was set up in 2015
- Serving judge of the High Court of New Zealand and UN committee member with experience of working with victims of sexual assault
- In 2007, she was appointed chairwoman of New Zealand’s Independent Police Conduct Authority
The inquiry had a budget of 17.9m in its first year, funded by the Home Office, with staffing-related costs accounting for 41% of the total.
Justice Lowell Goddard was receiving a salary of 360,000, an annual rental allowance of 110,000 and 12,000 a year to cover utilities, while panel members were each receiving 565 a day.
Ms Rudd said in a statement: “I want to assure everyone with an interest in the inquiry, particularly victims and survivors, that the work of the inquiry will continue without delay…
“I would like to thank Dame Lowell Goddard for the contribution she has made in setting up the inquiry so that it may continue to go about its vital work.”
Sarah Champion, the shadow minister for preventing abuse, described the resignation as disappointing.
“So many survivors of child abuse had put their trust in her inquiry to get them justice,” she said. “The government now needs to swiftly get a new chair so that the work can continue.”
Abuse inquiry: How we got here
7 July – government announces independent inquiry into the way public bodies investigated and handled child sex abuse claims. Baroness Butler-Sloss chosen as head
9 July – Baroness Butler-Sloss faces calls to quit because her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was attorney general in the 1980s
14 July – she stands down, saying she is “not the right person” for the job
5 September – Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf named the new head of the inquiry
11 October – Mrs Woolf discloses she had five dinners with Lord Brittan from 2008-12
22 October – abuse victim launches legal challenge against Mrs Woolf leading the inquiry, amid growing calls for her resignation
4 February 2015 – Justice Lowell Goddard, a serving judge of the High Court of New Zealand, announced as the new head of the inquiry
13 July 2015 – Dame Lowell’s pay is revealed as more than 480,000 a year
November 2015 – inquiry begins hearing directly from victims and survivors
4 August 2016 – Dame Lowell writes to Home Secretary Amber Rudd to resign from her post
Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-36982049