Palace of Westminster
The inquiry will investigate 'certain people of public prominence associated with Westminster' Reuters

Current and former MPs, local councils and the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches are among the 12 sections of investigation during the "unprecedented" government inquiry into child abuse. Lambeth, Rochdale and Nottinghamshire councils will also be investigated over their failure to protect children from abuse in their care from paedophile gangs.

Knowl View School and Cambridge House Hostel – where former Lib Dem MP for Rochdale Cyril Smith was said to have abused children for years – will also be examined as part of the inquiry into how institutions failed to protect children.

Justice Lowell Goddard, head of the inquiry, announced 12 investigations will run at once across England and Wales. She said she hopes some of these will be concluded within 18 months, whereas others could take several years, describing the original five-year timetable for completion as "ambitious, but achievable".

Goddard said: "The investigation will focus on high-profile allegations of child sexual abuse involving current or former members of parliament, senior civil servants, government advisers and members of intelligence and security agencies. It will consider allegations of cover-up and conspiracy and review the adequacy of law enforcement responses to these allegations.

"By adopting both an institution-specific and a thematic approach, we will ensure that the inquiry reaches its conclusions on as broad an evidence base as possible. We will not be limited to considering the particular institution that is the focus of the investigation, but will address the range of institutional responsibility for child protection.

She added: "There is no doubt that the task we have set ourselves in the first phase is ambitious. To run 12 investigations in parallel represents an organisational challenge that is unprecedented in a public inquiry in the UK. We are determined to succeed and expect full cooperation of all institutions and individuals who can assist us in our work."

Other lines of inquiry include allegations of a cover-up involving the abuse committed by Peter Ball, the former bishop of Lewes and Gloucester over three decades, the allegations of abuse at the Medomsley Detention Centre in Durham – estimated to be nearly 1,000 in total – as well as looking at the response of abuse allegations by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The investigations falls into two categories – institution-specific and thematic. They will take place across five areas of investigation:

  • Allegations of abuse by people of prominence in public life
  • Education and religion
  • Criminal Justice and law enforcement
  • Local authorities and voluntary organisations
  • National and private service organisations

The Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel to the Inquiry said: "Too many victims and survivors of child sexual abuse have suffered in silence. These investigations will give public voice to that suffering and bring greater understanding of why so many horrific crimes went unreported and undetected for so long. They will enable the inquiry to make proposals for reforms that will better protect children in the future and improve the support and reparation available to victims and survivors.

"We welcome the progress of the truth project element of the inquiry, enabling victims and survivors through their personal accounts to contribute to the inquiry's work. We encourage anyone who is a victim or survivor of child sexual abuse and who wants to share their experience to contact the inquiry."

The inquiry officially opened in July following a stuttering start due to the resignations of its previous two chairs Fiona Woolf and Baroness Butler-Sloss as well as controversy surrounding deleted evidence. In October, the inquiry admitted submissions via the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IISCA) website was accidently permanently removed following a technical error and urged anyone who provided evidence online between 14 September and 2 October to resubmit.

Butler-Sloss stood down as chair in July 2014 over concerns about her links to the establishment, as her late brother, Lord Havers, was attorney general during the 1980s, when it is alleged a paedophile ring was operating in Westminster. Her replacement Woolf also resigned because of her connection to the former home secretary Leon Brittan, who died in January aged 75.