Government’s child abuse inquiry head facing pressure to “stand down”
Fiona Woolf CBE is facing mounting pressure to resign her post as head of the government’s child abuse inquiry committee after it emerged she is on friendly terms with Lord Leon Brittan and his wife.
As a dossier about alleged Westminster paedophiles went missing from Brittan’s department whilst he was home secretary in 1984, this friendship is seen to possibly hamper the inquiry and cause a “conflict of interest”.
The government’s initial choice as head of the inquiry, Lady Butler-Sloss, resigned when it emerged that her late brother was attorney general around the same time Lord Brittan was home secretary.
Appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee, Mrs Woolf faced questions about her links with Lord Brittan after it was revealed they were neighbours and that she had invited him and his wife to dinner on three occasions. Woolf disclosed that she also sat on the advisory body of CityUK with Lady Brittan.
When asked about her thoughts on Woolf, Alison Millar, a solicitor representing a number of victims linked to the inquiry, told BBC Radio Four: “She has to be seen to be independent. And somebody who seems to be on dinner-party terms with a senior political figure whose knowledge this inquiry will be scrutinising is somebody who, from the perspective of my clients, does not have the necessary independence,” she said. “This evidence of dinner parties with Lord Brittan puts her beyond the pale in terms of her credibility with my clients.”
Labour MP Simon Dancuk, who campaigned for the inquiry, has also called for Woolf’s resignation in light of her friendship with Lord Brittan: “I don’t buy the view that you can’t choose someone to chair this inquiry who is not connected to Leon Brittan, and yet the government seem to have been insistent on choosing chairpeople who are very much establishment; very much connected to people involved.”
Woolf has written a letter to the home secretary detailing her contact with Lord and Lady Brittan which shall be publicly published on the inquiry’s website.
Woolf said: “I have assured the home secretary that there is nothing that could affect my ability to deal independently and impartially with matters the inquiry panel will investigate. If I had any doubt about this I would not have accepted this appointment. I look forward to beginning this vital work.
Mrs Woolf is to submit an interim report on the the progress of the inquiry to the home secretary in March 2015.