The panel set up to run the public child sex abuse inquiry may be "disbanded" by Theresa May in the New Year, according to reports.
In a letter addressed to panel members, and leaked by investigative website Exaro News, the Home Secretary says she is considering three options which will give the inquiry full statutory powers - two of which would most likely require the panel being split up.
The three options outlined by May to secure the inquiry statutory powers, including the ability to compel witnesses to give evidence, are:
- the appointment of a new chairman who would then request statutory powers
- the setting up of a new inquiry panel under statutory terms
- holding the inquiry as a Royal Commission without the powers of a statutory inquiry
The Home Office said May was still considering all her options and nothing has yet been decided.
A spokesperson for the government body added: "The Home Secretary is absolutely committed to ensuring the Independent Panel Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has the confidence of survivors.
"She is also clear that we have to balance the need to make progress with the need to get this right.”
Members of the panel, who currently have no chairman following the resignations of previous chairs Fiona Woolf and Baroness Butler-Sloss, are said to be "devastated" at the possibility of being split up.
In response to May, reprinted on the Exaro website, panel member Sharon Evans of child safety group Dot Com Children's Foundation wrote: "I, like other members of the panel, feel devastated at the prospect of the independent inquiry being halted as it has been made clear to us 'off the record' that the panel will be stood down in the New Year."
The inquiry has been hit by problems since it was officially announced on July 7. These problems include; initial chairwoman Baroness Butler-Sloss stepping down after it was decided her family links would "cause difficulties" for the inquiry, replacement chair Fiona Woolf resigning after calls for her to quit over concerns about impartiality, and campaigners complaining victims had been put through "unbearable torture" by the "snail pace" at which the inquiry is progressing.