Abuse probe boss finally quits: After weeks of clinging on Fiona Woolf goes as victims withdraw support over links to Leon Brittan
- Fiona Woolf was second choice to chair the historic child abuse inquiry
- She replaced Lady Butler-Sloss who quit because her brother was Attorney General in 1980s
- Mrs Woolf was asked to probe allegations of Establishment abuse cover-up
- But she lost victims’ trust over links to former Home Secretary Leon Brittan
- Lord Brittan is accused of failing to act on dossier about alleged child abuse
- Mrs Woolf held dinner parties with Lord Brittan and his wife
- But she failed to reveal two meetings with him which later emerged
- She drafted seven letters to Theresa May over her links to Lord Brittan
Fiona Woolf finally resigned as chairman of the government’s sex abuse inquiry last night after days of intense pressure over her links to Leon Brittan.
But she refused to apologise to abuse victims for failing to make her connections to the Tory peer clear.
Mrs Woolf, a solicitor and Lord Mayor of London, quit hours after victims’ groups said she was unsuitable to run the inquiry, which would be ‘a dead duck in the water’ if she remained.
Fiona Woolf re-wrote a letter to the Home Secretary seven times to play down links to Leon Brittan and is now facing mounting pressure to step down
She maintained claims of her links to Lord Brittan were mere ‘perceptions’ and appeared to blame the Press for her downfall.
She attacked ‘negative comment and innuendo’ about her connections to the former Tory Home Secretary, who is at the centre of allegations of an Establishment cover-up of sex abuse claims in the 1980s.
Mrs Woolf’s departure is a humiliation for Home Secretary Theresa May after the previous chair of the inquiry, Baroness Butler-Sloss, also had to quit because her late brother Sir Michael Havers was attorney general in the 1980s.
It leaves plans for the inquiry in disarray, with Mrs May now beginning a desperate search for a third chairman in only four months since the inquiry was announced.
She refused to apologise to abuse victims for failing to make her connections to the Tory peer Leon Brittan (pictured left) clear. A copy of her early and final draft letters, which she rewrote seven times
Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz said his committee could recall Mrs Woolf to give evidence
And it completes a disastrous week for the Home Secretary, whose reputation has been dealt a serious blow by revelations of chaos in Britain’s immigration system, the collapse of two major sham marriage trials and an MPs’ report exposing growing backlogs in asylum cases.
Labour MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk, who led calls for a full abuse inquiry said of Mrs Woolf’s announcement: ‘There has been an air of inevitability about this for weeks, but I take no satisfaction in it.
‘We’ve lost valuable time on an extremely important inquiry that needs to get at the truth as quickly as possible because some of the child abusers are very old and could well die before justice catches up with them.
‘The Home Office have made two terrible appointments and Theresa May clearly has serious questions to answer about her role in this shambles.
WHO’S NEXT IN LINE?
Following the resignations of two sex abuse inquiry chairman in just four months, several names were last night being mentioned as possible replacements. They include:
- Professor Alexis Jay, who carried out the recent inquiry into how the authorities ignored widespread sex abuse in Rotherham. She is already an advisor but could be bumped up to chairman. However, is not a lawyer.
- Michael Mansfield, the campaigning QC who has played a significant role in high profile inquests and court cases involving such controversial issues as Bloody Sunday and the death of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, shot dead by the Met Police after being mistaken for a terrorist.
- Jim Gamble, the former senior police officer and exhead of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). Howeveer, he fell out with Theresa May over bringing CEOP within the National Crime Agency.
- Esther Rantzen, the former presenter of That’s Life and Hearts of Gold, who founded and ran the child protection charity ChildLine. A long-standing campaigner on behalf of child abuse victims.
Mrs Woolf hosted a drinks reception for City dignitaries, including Lord Brittan, above right, where they were introduced to French premier Francois Fillon, above left, in 2011
‘As a result there’s now a deep distrust on the part of survivors of sex abuse and we’re all going to have to redouble our efforts to win their confidence back and convince people that the country is genuinely committed at uncovering the truth and bringing abusers to justice.’
Ian McFadyen, a survivor of sexual abuse, said: ‘I’m sorry so much time wasted by powers that be that keep making such drastic mistakes. I blame Theresa May, the Home Office.
‘No one has consulted the survivors, this is where the problem lies.’
One victim, who would not be named, told Channel 4 News: ‘It is no longer just a farce, it is pantomime.’
NO APOLOGY AND, GUESS WHAT, SHE BLAMES THE MEDIA
After deciding to step down, Fiona Woolf gave a statement to the BBC to explain her reasons. This is an edited version of what she said:
ON HER DECISION TO QUIT
There was great nervousness as a result of the perception of my connections with Lord Brittan.
Ultimately what turned the tide was less about putting up with the innuendo and negative comment in the Press and more about the victims themselves. This is for them … I think ultimately I was persuaded in my mind that it was the victims that mattered.
I’m obviously sad that people are not confident in my ability to chair what is a hugely important inquiry impartially.
I don’t think that it was going to be possible for me to chair it without everybody’s support.
ON THE MEDIA
Whether, of course, somebody is prepared to take it on in the eye of a media storm and knowing that they’re going to suffer at the hands of negative comment and innuendo the whole time, and it will take that leadership on an inclusive basis also to protect the panel members because social media gets to them as well.
ON HER LINKS TO BRITTAN
I think that the way in which it emerged was that the definition of ‘close association’ perhaps got in the way, and that the perception that I was biased was growing, even though actually it was never said in so many terms.
ON THE LETTERS
What it shows is that I’ve been incredibly transparent.
I mean, the extent to which I’ve gone to lay out all the connections, all the details, the amount of interrogation of diaries, of records, has been absolutely huge… Ultimately, it came under my signature.
Yes, it looks like that [that her independence was compromised] with the benefit of hindsight but at the time I was travelling, there was a lot of investigation being carried out by a lot of different people coming in from various different angles so it was bound to be an iterative process.
I could certainly have done without having to publish all these drafts of the letter…
I think with hindsight I could not have managed without, basically, help and I think the Home Office was just trying to be helpful.
ON HER LACK OF EXPERIENCE IN CHILD PROTECTION
The Home Office have made it clear that they actually wanted someone who was independent … But also they were looking for someone who had experience of very large-scale exercises, of projects.
ON HER SUCCESSOR
As the media have picked up on, it’s really going to be quite hard to find someone with absolutely no connections. I mean, a hermit?
It needs inclusive leadership which I can’t command because the victims don’t have the confidence in me to get behind it. And actually you need someone who can command everybody’s support to get behind this because that’s the only way it’s going to succeed.
I regret two things: not the damage to myself, but I regret that the victims have been unsettled by the last few weeks over my appointment. And I do wish that this inquiry will succeed for them … Of course I found it painful. Who wouldn’t? And lots of family and friends have found it painful as well, but it’s something that I will learn from.
The pressure on Mrs Woolf, 66, to quit intensified yesterday after it emerged she rewrote a letter about her suitability for the role seven times with the help of Home Office officials – and changed crucial facts in the process in an apparent attempt to play down embarrassing details.
Astonishingly, she said the changes were ‘just one of those things’ adding: ‘I could certainly have done without having to publish all these drafts of the letter.’
In an interview with the BBC announcing her decision to quit, she insisted she had been ‘incredibly transparent’.
She appeared to blame the MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee who investigated her background and warned it could be difficult to find a suitable replacement who was willing to take on the role in the face of intense media scrutiny.
Mrs Woolf (left) pictured with Lady Brittan (right), Lord Brittan’s wife, at a party last year
Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk called for Mrs Woolf to step down as chair of the sex abuse inquiry
She said she had been considering her position for several days but that the ‘tipping point’ was a meeting yesterday between inquiry officials and victims’ representatives at which they declared she had lost their confidence.
Peter Saunders, of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood, said Mrs Woolf was ‘someone would we would not be able to work with were she to remain in place’.
He said she had ‘more than tenuous links with one of the key protagonists that are going to be part of this investigation.’
INQUIRY LAUNCHED OVER CLAIMS OF AN ESTABLISHMENT ‘COVER UP’ OF HISTORIC CHILD ABUSE
Home Secretary Theresa May finally agreed to to order an inquiry into historic child abuse in July following months of allegations that there had been an Establishment ‘cover up’ of sexual assaults on children in the 1980s.
She said the Government would establish an independent probe under an expert panel to examine the handling of allegations of paedophilia.
State institutions as well as bodies such as the BBC, churches and political parties would be investigated she said.
Mrs May told MPs that it would be chaired by ‘an appropriately senior and experienced figure’.
Mrs May said she accepted Mrs Woolf’s resignation ‘with regret’.
She said she would be meeting victims’ groups before appointing a successor and will make a statement to Parliament on Monday.
Mrs Woolf’s resignation raises serious questions over the Home Office’s vetting process and its role in rewriting her account.
Within days of her appointment it emerged she had contacts with Lord Brittan through the City of London and had sponsored his wife on a charity run.
In a disastrous appearance before the Home Affairs Committee, she made the extraordinary claim she was ‘not a member of the Establishment’.
A picture uncovered by the Mail showed her with Lady Brittan at a prize-giving in October last year when she claim the two had no ‘social contact’ after April 2013.
Lord Brittan has strenuously denied accusations that he ignored a document – which later went missing – that detailed a paedophile ring involving high-profile figures.
Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz welcomed Mrs Woolf’s resignation but said the whole process has been ‘chaotic’.
HOW THE CHILD ABUSE INQUIRY FIASCO UNFOLDED
Monday July 7: Home Secretary Theresa May announces she will establish an independent inquiry under an expert panel to examine the handling of allegations of paedophilia by state institutions as well as bodies such as the BBC, churches and political parties. It will be chaired by ‘an appropriately senior and experienced figure’, she tells the House of Commons.
Tuesday July 8: Baroness Butler-Sloss is named as the chairwoman.
Eyebrows are immediately raised by the choice. Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz questions the choice of a member of the House of Lords, ‘no matter how distinguished’, to investigate the establishment – pointing out that her brother was lord chancellor during the era being probed.
Wednesday July 9: Calls for the appointment to be abandoned intensify over reports that Baroness Butler-Sloss’s brother, Sir Michael – later Lord – Havers, tried to prevent ex-MP Geoffrey Dickens airing claims about a diplomat in Parliament in the 1980s. Baroness Butler-Sloss insists she knew ”absolutely nothing about it” and adds: ‘If people think I am not suitable, then that’s up to them.’
The Home Office says it stands ‘unreservedly’ by its choice, saying the former judge’s integrity is ‘beyond reproach’.
Saturday July 12: Claims are published by The Times that Baroness Butler-Sloss refused to go public about a bishop implicated in a scandal.
She is reported to have told a victim of alleged abuse she did not want to include their claims in a review of how the Church of England dealt with two paedophile priests because she ‘cared about the Church’ and ‘the press would love a bishop’.
‘I have never put the reputation of any institution, including the Church of England, above the pursuit of justice for victims,’ she insists.
The Home Office once again declares its ‘unreserved’ approval of her taking a role for which she is ‘perfect’.
Monday July 14: Downing Street announces Baroness Butler-Sloss is stepping aside by her own choice. In a statement, she says she was ‘honoured’ to have been asked but acknowledges that her family links would ’cause difficulties’ for the process.
Mrs May says she is ‘deeply saddened’ but has embarked on the search for a replacement. Mr Vaz says the whole inquiry process is becoming ‘shambolic’.
The process of selecting a replacement begins.
Friday September 5: The lord mayor of the City of London, Fiona Woolf, a former president of the Law Society of England and Wales, is named as the new chairwoman of the inquiry.
Mrs May says she is ‘confident’ the leading tax lawyer has the right skills and experience to run the inquiry.
Sunday September 7: The Mail on Sunday reveals links between Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan, who is likely to be called to give evidence to the inquiry over a dossier he received from Mr Dickens in 1983, documenting the alleged involvement of VIP figures in a child sex ring.
Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who has led the campaign for an inquiry, says Mrs Woolf’s position would be ‘untenable’ if she was close to the Brittans.
Monday September 8: Downing Street says the Prime Minister continues to have ‘strong support’ for the appointment.
Tuesday October 21: Mrs May insists she has confidence in the inquiry chairwoman after Mrs Woolf gives details of her links to Lord Brittan.
Mrs Woolf confirms that she lives in the same London street as the former cabinet minister and says she invited Lord and Lady Brittan to dinner parties three times over the last decade, and dined at their house twice. In the letter she also says she met the peer’s wife for coffee, sat on a prize-giving panel with her, and sponsored her £50 for a fun run.
Mrs Woolf insists there is nothing in the encounters that would 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 writes.
Mr Danczuk says Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan were ‘clearly good friends’ and she should stand down as chairwoman.
Giving evidence later to the Home Affairs Select Committee, Mrs Woolf insists she has ”gone the extra distance” to declare every possible issue to reassure victims and does not have a ”close association” with the former cabinet minister.
Wednesday October 22: Pressure mounts on Mrs Woolf to stand down after solicitor Alison Millar, who represents a number of abuse victims, says the chairwoman ”really does not have the necessary credibility to lead what is such an important inquiry’ and calls for her to quit.
It emerges that Mrs Woolf’s list of meetings with the Brittans may be incomplete after a photograph surfaces showing her chatting to Lady Brittan at a prize-giving last October – Mrs Woolf had previously stated that she had had ‘no social contact with Lord and Lady Brittan since April 23 2013’.
Senior Labour and Liberal Democrat figures voice doubts about whether Mrs Woolf could have the confidence of victims.
Family lawyer David Burrows lodges an application for judicial review of the entire inquiry set-up, saying it should be a judge-led statutory public inquiry, and complaining of its ”seriously limp” terms of reference.
Thursday October 30: Mr Vaz says Mrs Woolf’s attempt to detail contact with Lord Brittan tried to play down her links with the former cabinet minister and his wife.
The committee chairman says there were seven drafts of the letter and the final version ”gave a sense of greater detachment” between Lord and Lady Brittan and Mrs Woolf than her previous attempts.
Friday October 31:
11am – Downing Street says the Prime Minister remains ‘absolutely clear that he thinks she can do this job with integrity and impartiality’.
‘What matters is that we’ve got an able person getting on with the inquiry,’ a spokeswoman says.
2pm – Victims’ representatives emerge from talks with the inquiry panel unanimously calling for Fiona Woolf to be replaced and for it to be made a statutory public inquiry.
5pm – Mrs Woolf says she has accepted it is time to ‘get out of the way’ and has stepped aside.
Home Secretary Theresa May says she has accepted the resignation ‘with regret’ and will make a Commons statement on Monday.
Labour leader Ed Miliband says Mrs May has ‘some explaining to do’ over the handling of the appointment fiasco.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2815497/Child-abuse-victims-demand-inquiry-chair-Fiona-Woolf-resigns-links-Tory-peer-Lord-Brittan.html#ixzz3HlchDPfq
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