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IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

The Report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Final report

I.3: Apologies

11. Apologies are a valuable form of reparation for victims and survivors:[1]

while an apology … can’t undo damage, what it does do, crucially, I think, is restore people’s sense of themselves as human beings, which they feel often gets lost in large organisations … it resets a human-to-human relationship and it takes out some degree of the power differential that has happened when an individual confronts an institution. This power differential is part of the harm.[2]

12. For an apology to offer proper reparation to victims and survivors, it must be genuine and meaningful. An apology should be made directly to the individual and, if requested, face-to-face.[3] A conditional statement, such as ‘if you were abused, then we are sorry’, is not an apology.[4] It borders on being insulting to victims, with the effect of making matters worse for them. An apology’s value may also depend on whether it is made by someone in authority.[5] For example, the Roman Catholic Church investigation heard evidence of both positive and inadequate apologies.

12.1. In November 2018, Cardinal Nichols apologised for the Church’s failings, stating it was a source of “great sorrow and shame for me and, indeed, I know for the Catholic Church”, but there was no acknowledgement of any personal responsibility to lead or influence change.[6]

12.2. As set out in the Inquiry’s Roman Catholic Church Case Study: Archdiocese of Birmingham Investigation Report, RC-A491 met with Archbishop Bernard Longley, who listened to him “in a genuine way and was in no hurry to leave”. Archbishop Longley told RC-A491 that he was very sorry for what had happened and followed up the meeting with a letter of apology. RC-A491 said:

It meant a lot to me for the head of the institution that failed me so terribly to look me in the eye and acknowledge my suffering, acknowledge their failure to protect me and ask for my forgiveness.[7]

13. For some victims and survivors, an apology may come too late. Some died before any apology was made. In 2013, AN-A15 received a letter of apology from the Bishop of Chichester apologising for abuse which had happened many years ago. For her it was “too little, too late”.[8] Others may welcome an apology whenever it is given. LA-A25, who was sexually abused in the 1970s and received a letter of apology from Lambeth Council in 2020, explained it was important for her to have her experience acknowledged, albeit decades later.

I felt relieved, because … it gave me a sense that I was believed, after all, and they were sorry. But it isn’t this Lambeth [Council] that needs to be sorry.[9]

14. For some, an apology that is not accompanied by significant change is inadequate. As one complainant told the Inquiry, an apology where “nothing has changed” was “a candy floss apology” or “prattle without practice”.[10]

15. Apologies were often not made, even where the perpetrator had been convicted.[11] Although some victims and survivors have now received apologies, others may still be waiting.[12] For example, as set out in the Inquiry’s Residential Schools Investigation Report, complainant RS-A7 confirmed that Buckinghamshire County Council had not been in touch with him. This was despite the Council stating during the hearings that it would contact those involved to discuss an apology.[13]

16. Public apologies can also be an important step in institutions acknowledging abuse. A number of public apologies have been made in recent years, including during the Inquiry’s proceedings.[14] As set out in the Inquiry’s Children in the Care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report, it was clear many investigations and inspections over a 20-year period had revealed Lambeth Council’s failures in its duty of care towards many child victims of sexual abuse. However, a fulsome apology was not given by Lambeth Council until the Inquiry’s public hearing.[15] This is not the only example of a public apology which may have come too late for some. The Nottinghamshire Councils took different approaches to apologising for non-recent abuse. While the County Council made a public apology, the City Council was guarded and slow to apologise, with the then City Council Leader in 2018 stating that “we will apologise when there is something to apologise for”. The City Council did make a public apology two weeks before the public hearings. It was viewed with cynicism by some complainants and was rejected by them.[16]

17. It is important that any public apology is matched by a commitment to make apologies personally and individually to the victim. Some participants in the Truth Project were upset by the difference between the public responses and apologies made by a religious organisation about child sexual abuse and the private treatment and lack of response they received as individuals who had been abused within that community.[17]

18. The Inquiry previously recommended that institutions involved in the child migration programmes which had not apologised for their role should give their apologies as soon as possible.[18] It also recommended that such apologies should be made not only through public statements but specifically to those child migrants for whose migration they were responsible. A number of apologies were subsequently made.[19]

Apologies and admissions of liability

19. A reluctance to apologise may be founded in concerns that an apology may amount to an admission of liability and be relied upon in civil litigation.[20] Institutions may also be concerned that an apology may invalidate any insurance they have.[21] Although some insurers told the Inquiry that they were now generally supportive of apologies being made by institutions, there are concerns about the timing of such an apology and whether it might amount to an admission of liability.[22]

The Compensation Act 2006

20. Where a civil claim is brought for negligence or breach of statutory duty, the Compensation Act 2006 allows a defendant institution to make an apology (or indeed an offer of treatment or other redress) without that amounting to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty.[23] However, civil claims for child sexual abuse are often brought under a different legal basis, known as vicarious liability, which may make institutions liable for their employees or people in similar positions to employees.

21. While some defendants interpret the Compensation Act 2006 as extending to vicarious liability, the Act itself does not refer to it.[24] A number of witnesses stated that this issue needed to be clarified.[25]

22. In September 2019, the Inquiry recommended that the government should amend the Compensation Act to make clear that institutions may apologise for abuse by persons for whom they may be vicariously liable without those apologies amounting to admissions of legal liability.[26] In April 2020, the government stated that the focus of the 2006 Act on claims in negligence and breach of statutory duty is “not intended to suggest that the provision is only of relevance to those proceedings (and under the common law it may be equally relevant elsewhere, including in cases involving vicarious liability)”. Nonetheless the government stated that it would “explore further whether it would be helpful to amend the 2006 Act or take alternative action to clarify that this is the case”.[27]

23. In March 2021, the government made a commitment to consult on the issue of apologies.[28] In November 2021, it stated that it was “still planning to publish a consultation paper on the law of apologies”.[29] As at June 2022, no consultation had been launched, but in May 2022, the government informed the Inquiry that the consultation “should run through the summer with a response before the New Year”.[30]

24. The Inquiry also recommended that the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) produce codes of practice for responding to civil claims of child sexual abuse (discussed further in Part G). The Inquiry stated that such codes should include guidance that claimants should be offered apologies wherever possible.[31] The ABI published its code in August 2021, which states that insurers should “never prevent or discourage their policyholder from apologising to a claimant”.[32] If applied, this should remove the possibility that insurance cover will be forfeited if apologies are made by institutions. The LGA’s draft code was expected to be published in November 2021.[33] As at June 2022, it is still awaited.


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