Major British child abuse inquiry 'hanging by a thread'

LONDON (REUTERS) - A major inquiry into Britain's failure to stop child sex abuse and whether powerful political figures covered it up was "hanging by a thread" on Thursday after several participants said they had lost faith in the process.

The government ordered the inquiry, expected to last years, in July in response to claims from victims of abuse that the establishment had not only failed to act over organised child abuse allegations in the 1970s and 1980s, but in some cases had been complicit in keeping the accusations secret.

Before it could even start, two chairmen selected by Home Secretary Theresa May were forced to step down because of their links to figures connected to the allegations, and there has been criticism from victims about other members of the inquiry panel and its terms of reference.

On Thursday, more than 20 individuals, abuse victims and child care professionals, wrote to May saying they would end their engagement with the inquiry unless its scope was extended and its format changed.

"Very few survivors, organisations or individuals, have any confidence in the process as it stands at the moment," said Peter Saunders, founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, which represents the largest group of abuse victims.

"At the moment the whole thing is hanging by a thread. But we are sticking with the thread until we can confirm we have absolutely no confidence - at which point we may walk away."

May has already said she could not rule out the possibility of a cover-up, although a review into the disappearance of a dossier of allegations handed to the Home Office 30 years ago found no evidence it had been deliberately destroyed.

Saunders said he was meeting May on Friday and believed she was keen to "get the inquiry right".

"The issues in the letter are issues that have been raised previously and that we are looking at," May told Sky News.

"I'm very clear, I believe that we have a once in a lifetime opportunity here to get to the bottom of this issue - to actually find out what has happened."