It is over two years ago that Theresa May, then the home secretary, announced that she would set up Britain's great child abuse inquiry. First, it was to be the Butler-Sloss Inquiry, but Lady Butler-Sloss resigned almost immediately because some objected to the fact that her brother had been Attorney General in the Eighties ("establishment cover-up"). Then, for a few weeks, it was the Woolf Inquiry, but Fiona Woolf resigned because she admitted to having dinner with Lord Brittan, against whom lurid child abuse allegations had been made ("establishment conspiracy").
A desperate Mrs May then looked to the other side of the world, and found Justice Lowell Goddard in New Zealand. From February last year, it became the Goddard Inquiry. At the time, Dame Lowell warned that an inquiry "which does not have achievable goals cannot deliver", but she still took the job.
On Thursday, Dame Lowell resigned, speaking of the inquiry's "legacy of failure" and adding that "with hindsight it would have been better to have started completely afresh". Yet the new Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, seems not to have considered this point for a moment. Her instant response to Dame Lowell's resignation has been to say that the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) - to give it its permanent name - will roll on as before. A new chairman will be sought.
Even with the very serious financial inducements (two and a half times the Prime Minister's salary, plus generous allowances), it is fair to predict that few suitable candidates will put themselves forward to be fourth-time lucky. They will hold back, not out of cowardice (though fear of obloquy in this situation is entirely reasonable), but because the job cannot be done.
Dame Lowell is right that it would be better to start completely afresh, but wrong to suggest that it needed hindsight to see this. It was obvious from the first day. Look at why Mrs May set up the inquiry. The hue and cry began with the resurrection of allegations by the long-dead and somewhat flaky Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens. (Part of the problem was that no one quite knew what his allegations were.) There was a suggestion of cover-up by Conservative administrations. It was less than a year before the next general election. The political imperative for Mrs May and David Cameron's government was to look tough on paedophilia and "transparent" about the past as quickly as possible.
Hence the rush to find the chairman, and hence the decision to make this an inquiry with terms of reference which cover virtually everything, ever. All failures in relation to child sex abuse by all "State and non-State institutions in England and Wales" in living memory are the subject, plus what to do about them. This is interpreted as meaning not only finding out how a particular institution - care homes, say, or the Catholic Church - dealt with these matters, but also investigating particular cases, such as that of Greville Janner, and inviting all people who say they have been abused in institutional settings to come and talk about it. (This is called "The Truth Project").
Partly from the anonymous testimony of such people, whose allegations will be passed to the police, cases can then be built up against individuals and groups. Those accused can be named in the inquiry's public hearings. The accused are not allowed to examine their accusers. The inquiry is allowed to make "findings of fact" which can name individuals as paedophile offenders without due criminal or civil process. The thing begins to look like an inquisition. Instead of the counsel to the inquiry being, as would normally be the case, a barrister steeped in administrative law, the job was given to Ben Emmerson QC, who is adversarial.
Huge numbers of lawyers were hired. "Workstreams" (eg "Abuse by People of Prominence in Public Life", "Education and Religion") and "Projects" were set up. Public money flowed. But then, while the inquiry got fatter, the material which had started all this began to look thinner. The Dickens stuff went nowhere. The accusations against Leon Brittan, Lord Bramall and the late Sir Edward Heath, which had moved Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, to abuse parliamentary privilege and claim "clear intelligence of a powerful paedophile network with links to Parliament and No 10", were discredited by BBC Panorama and others. They had originated in a fantasist known as "Nick". "Nick" said the story was "just a joke to start with". The police raids on Lord Bramall's home and on the home of Lord Brittan after he had died looked contemptible.
In advance of Goddard, the Church of England settled out of court with a woman who said she had been abused as a child between 1949 and 1953 by George Bell, the heroic anti-Nazi wartime Bishop of Chichester. The Church accepted that he had abused her. It soon turned out that no case for Bell had ever been heard by the Church and no evidence or witnesses of his life at that time had been called. The reputation of a dead, defenceless, good man had been sacrificed in a panic.
Police harassment of various celebrities, such as Paul Gambaccini and Sir Cliff Richard, belatedly reminded people that an accusation of child abuse does not equal proof of it. All of the above events called into question the convention that has grown up by which people who say they were abused are automatically described as "victims" or "survivors": they may be, or they may not. Public opinion began to realise that if people in positions of trust with children can be ruined simply by an untested accusation, then no teacher, priest, care worker etc has any security at all. It slowly dawned on the same public opinion that such witch-hunting, as well as being unjust, cannot protect children.
The logic of everything that has happened is that the IICSA should now stop. It mixes too many things. Its rules are unfair, some contrary to proper legal procedures. Its remit is almost literally endless. Its unnecessary expense is huge. It is not, and cannot be, properly equipped to bring justice to thousands of individuals who feel wronged.
What an inquiry could do, surely, is something more modest, but very important. It could study what State and non-State institutions in the wake of real child abuse scandals, of which there have been all too many, are doing to prevent it happening again. By following the history of what went wrong, it could establish whether the relevant institutions are now putting it right. That would be a real public service.
But it is shockingly unlikely that this will happen, for two reasons. The first is the massive industry of child abuse campaigners and lawyers. For them, the IICSA is a dream come true and, in some cases, a livelihood. It is notable that some of them suggest that the inquiry does not really need to be chaired: one suspects that part of the problem for Dame Lowell Goddard was that she found it unmanageable. If its powers and scope are curtailed they will howl about cover-up, and so will politicians like the disgraceful Tom Watson. I fear large parts of the media will not challenge them.
The second reason is that Theresa May, who started it all, is now the Prime Minister.