Fiona Woolf yesterday confirmed she had attended two dinner parties at Lord Brittan’s house and hosted the Tory peer and his wife on three occasions, but insisted she did not have a “close association” with the former cabinet minister.
She told a parliamentary committee scrutinising her appointment that the former home secretary – who has denied failing to act on a dossier of abuse allegations in the 1980s – was “one of thousands” of people she knew in London.
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But solicitor Alison Millar, who represents a number of abuse victims whose cases are likely to be raised in the inquiry, said the “general view” among her clients was that Mrs Woolf – the Lord Mayor of the City of London – “really does not have the necessary credibility to lead what is such an important inquiry for them”.
Asked whether Mrs Woolf should step down, Ms Millar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Yes. I think this evidence of dinner parties with Lord Brittan really puts her beyond the pale in terms of her credibility with my clients.”
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Mrs Woolf was appointed in September to chair the independent panel inquiry into UK institutions’ handling of child sex abuse allegations, after the initial nominee Lady Butler-Sloss stepped down over suggestions that she might be called upon to investigate the role of her late brother, former attorney general Lord Havers.
Downing Street has said Prime Minister David Cameron is “confident that Fiona Woolf and the panel will carry out their duties to the high standards of integrity required”.
Ms Millar told Today: “This is not about Fiona Woolf’s ability or her integrity. This is about her independence and her ability to lead this inquiry in a way that is credible to the survivors of abuse whom I represent.
“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.
“The people that I am in contact with because they are my clients, or I am in contact with otherwise, the general view among them is that Fiona Woolf really does not have the necessary credibility to lead what is such an important inquiry for them.”