Chair of historic child abuse inquiry urged to quit over revelations she is ‘close friend’ of top Tory accused of failing to act on paedophile allegations
- Fiona Woolf lives on the same street as the ex Cabinet Minister Leon Brittan
- She invited former Home Secretary and his wife for dinner three times
- Brittan rejects claims he failed to act on dossier of abuse allegations in 1980s
- Theresa May appointed Mrs Woolf last month after her original choice quit
- Lady Butler-Sloss stepped down because her brother was attorney general
- Labour’s Simon Danczuk said he had ‘serious concerns’ about Fiona Woolf
Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf is facing calls to step down as the new head of the independent inquiry into child sex abuse
The chair of the government inquiry into historic paedophilia is facing calls to quit today – after admitting she is a dinner party friend of former Home Secretary Leon Brittan.
Fiona Woolf confirmed that she lives on the same street as the Tory former Cabinet Minister – who has flatly denied failing to act on a dossier of abuse allegations in the 1980s.
In a letter to Mrs May, the lawyer said she invited Lord and Lady Brittan to dinner parties on three occasions since 2008, and had dined at their house twice.
She also met the peer’s wife for coffee, sat on a prize-giving panel with her, and sponsored her £50 for a fun-run.
Mrs May appointed Mrs Woolf last month after her original choice Lady Butler-Sloss stepped down because her brother was attorney general – in the Cabinet alongside Lord Brittan – at the time some of the alleged abuse occurred.
Mrs May today insisted that the inquiry panel – which will also include Rotheram sex abuse report author Professor Alexis Jay – would ‘carry out their duties to the highest standards’.
‘Fiona Woolf has a long and distinguished career throughout which she has demonstrated the highest standards of integrity,’ the Home Secretary said.
‘I am confident that she will lead the work of the panel with authority, and that under her leadership the panel will get to the truth of these issues.’
Mrs Woolf – the Lord Mayor of London – who is due to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee later today – insisted there was nothing in the encounters to stop her chairing the wide-ranging probe.
‘Over the last few weeks, I have carefully checked through my records to ensure that there is nothing which should prevent me fulfilling that role,’ she wrote.
‘I have specifically focused, in the light of recent media reporting, on my contacts with Lord and Lady Brittan, but have not restricted my checks to those contacts. Having done so I am confident that I can continue to act.’
But Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who has led the campaign for an inquiry, said Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan were ‘clearly good friends’ and she should stand down as chair.
‘I have serious concerns about the relationship between Fiona Woolf and Leon Brittan,’ he said.
‘I don’t buy into this idea that the Home Office could not find someone who was not connected to Leon Brittan. He is surely somebody who has to be investigated as part of the inquiry – not least because of his role as home secretary at the time.’
Home Secretary Theresa May is under mounting pressure to sack her second choice to head up the inquiry into historic child abuse
Labour MP Simon Danczuk said it was clear that Fiona Woolf was a ‘close friend’ of the former Home Secretary Leon Brittan
Mr Danczuk said one mistake was forgiveable, but added: ‘To make the same mistake twice looks like they are trying to protect Leon Brittan.’
He said: ‘Survivors of abuse will undoubtedly be very concerned about the impression that there is something untoward. I think it is a total error of judgement by the Home Office.’
Mr Danczuk added: ‘I don’t move in Pimlico dinner circles, but the vast majority of people I know, if you have somebody round for dinner in your home, you would consider them a good friend.’
The Home Secretary’s first choice to lead the inquiry into historic child abuse was Baroness Butler-Sloss (left), but she was forced to step down because her brother was the Government’s attorney general – in the Cabinet alongside Lord Brittan (right) – at the time some of the alleged abuse occurred
The Labour MP said a ‘cursory Google search’ showed a connection between Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan.
‘It is impossible that the Home Office will not have known,’ he added. ‘She should not be doing this job.’
Lord Brittan is likely to be called to give evidence to the inquiry over a dossier he received from MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983, documenting the alleged involvement of VIP figures in a child sex ring.