So was this ANOTHER party with Leon Brittan you forgot, Mrs Woolf?: Pressure grows on beleaguered sex abuse inquiry chief to resign… as MoS uncovers new link to ex-minister who ‘lost’ vital evidence
- Fiona Woolf hosted VIP drinks reception at which Leon Brittan was a guest
- Brittan accused of failing to act on a dossier about VIP paedophile rings
- She did not declare the meeting in list of possible conflicts of interest
- Mrs Woolf admitted she has also enjoyed dinner parties with Lord Brittan
Under fire: Fiona Woolf hosted a VIP drinks reception at which Leon Brittan was a guest
Fiona Woolf was under fresh pressure to resign from the Government’s child abuse inquiry last night after The Mail on Sunday uncovered new evidence suggesting undeclared links with Leon Brittan, a key figure at the centre of the scandal.
The under-fire inquiry chairman hosted a VIP drinks reception at which the Tory peer was a guest, official documents indicate, but she did not declare it in a list of possible conflicts of interest.
Last night, Mrs Woolf refused to comment on City of London papers that suggest she and Lord Brittan were among a handful of City dignitaries at an event to meet the French Prime Minister in 2011, held in a small reception room in one of London’s grandest buildings.
Despite the controversy surrounding her links to Lord Brittan – accused of covering up a damning dossier of high-profile child abusers – she would not confirm or deny if they were both at the party when confronted.
This newspaper first uncovered her close links to the ex-Conservative MP and his wife seven weeks ago. After refusing to explain their apparent friendship for more than a month, Mrs Woolf, now the Lord Mayor of London, finally confirmed our revelations in a letter to the Home Secretary last week.
She also admitted she had enjoyed five dinner parties with Lord Brittan and numerous coffee meetings with his wife.
Astonishingly, she told MPs that this did not mean she had a conflict of interest in investigating the role of her neighbour in a possible Whitehall cover-up – and provoked incredulity when she denied she was part of the Establishment.
The links have led to calls from MPs and abuse victims for her to step down, as well as a legal challenge to her position. She was appointed after the original chairman Baroness Butler-Sloss was forced to quit because of her late brother’s handling of high-profile paedophile cases during his time as Attorney General in the 1980s.
The drinks reception was not mentioned in Mrs Woolf’s list of contacts with Lord Brittan, although it did appear in a City of London newsletter. The Members’ Briefing, sent to councillors in the Square Mile, detailed the speech given by the then French premier Francois Fillon on January 13, 2011, in the Old Library of the historic Guildhall.
It stated: ‘Before the address, the Lord Mayor, Alderman and Sheriff Fiona Woolf and Stuart Fraser hosted a small reception in the Chief Commoner’s Parlour to enable the French Prime Minister, the French Minister for European Affairs and the French Ambassador to meet a small group of representatives from the City businesses.
‘Guests present at the address included Andre Villeneuve, Chairman of the International Regulatory Strategy Group of The CityUK, Marcus Agius, Group Chairman of Barclays plc, the Rt Hon the Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, Trade Adviser to the Prime Minister, Sir John Rose, Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce Group, and the Rt Hon Lord Mandelson.’
The Chief Commoner’s Parlour is the smallest reception room in the Guildhall – plans indicate it is just 33ft long and 20ft wide, little bigger than the average living room.
The French connection: Fiona 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
Intimate:The event took place at the Guildhall’s Chief Commoner’s Parlour, above. It usually features a table that seats about 20 people. It suggests that Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan would have come into contact over drinks
It suggests that Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan, as neighbours on ‘dinner party terms’ with each other, would have come into contact over drinks.
When approached outside her grace-and-favour apartment in the opulent Mansion House yesterday, Mrs Woolf said she could not comment on the drinks reception and why it was not disclosed.
Asked about the event, she replied: ‘You don’t expect me to give you an interview now, do you?’ This newspaper had asked her press office to respond more than 12 hours earlier, but she said she had not been told of the approach, before driving off with her husband in their silver BMW.
WHY DOES HOME SECRETARY THERESA MAY STILL REFUSE TO ANSWER THESE KEY QUESTIONS?
When we first revealed the links between Fiona Woolf and Lord Brittan, the Home Office would not say if it was already aware of them. Home Secretary Theresa May still hasn’t answered several important points about the circumstances of the appointment.
- Who was responsible for vetting Fiona Woolf? Mrs May had already been accused of a ‘shambolic’ failure to do due diligence on Baroness Butler-Sloss, the original choice.
- What checks were done on her background? Basic public records searches soon revealed her links to the Brittans.
- What possible conflicts of interest did Fiona Woolf declare? Whitehall sources say she did not think her links to the Brittans counted as a close association.
- Why do you think her friendship with the Brittans does not count as a close association? Any similar links in a court case would force a judge or lawyer to pull out, and it is clear many abuse victims no longer have faith in the inquiry to get to the truth.
In her four-page letter of possible conflicts of interest, she referred to grand banquets held in the past year where the Brittans may have been present – but not the small reception.
She wrote: ‘The Lord Mayor of the day and the City of London Corporation host a number of annual and other banquets and dinners. A significant number of guests from a wide cross-section of public life, often in the hundreds, are invited to these dinners.
‘As an Alderman, I too have attended some of them but I do not recall engaging with Lord or Lady Brittan at all, or certainly in any substantial way, at these dinners.’
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said last night: ‘It is disappointing that new information is coming to light so soon after Mrs Woolf gave evidence to the committee. She told us that her letter to the Home Secretary was comprehensive. However, there were clearly items that were missing.
‘The Home Office should have had these conversations before her appointment. The appointment process has bordered on the farcical.’
It can also be revealed that Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan are both opera fans and appear to have been at the same illustrious festival in Ireland. In 2001, Lord Brittan attended the 50th Wexford Festival Opera. A newspaper article at the time noted his presence among the ‘starry clientele’.
Publicly available documents show that Mrs Woolf and her husband Nicholas were also associated with the festival in 2001 and paid for VIP membership to the event.
Last night, Lord and Lady Brittan declined to comment on new details about their links to Mrs Woolf.
The Home Office said: ‘Each of the panel members, including Fiona Woolf, has written to the Home Secretary setting out in full any issues which might be seen to cast doubt on their impartiality.
‘The Home Secretary has said she is confident that they will carry out their duties to the highest standards of impartiality and integrity.’
HOW MAIL ON SUNDAY BROKE STORY THAT PUT LORD MAYOR IN FIRING LINE… AND OUR PICTURE THAT MADE FRONT PAGE NEWS LAST WEEK
We revealed links between Fiona Woolf and Lord Brittan on September 7: how she lives on the same street, sat on the same City board and donated to his wife’s fun run.
Our photo of Mrs Woolf and Lady Brittan at a party, also published on September 7, as below, caused fresh controversy last week because she did not declare it.
Threats: PR man James Saville claimed to be working with Theresa May’s department
Bizarre bid to gag MoS… by ‘Home Office’ PR man
A Mail on Sunday journalist trying to uncover the truth about Fiona Woolf’s appointment to the child abuse inquiry received unwarranted threats from a PR man claiming to be working with the Home Office.
This newspaper was warned it would be reported to the new press complaints watchdog for simply arranging an interview with another panel member who could shed light on the controversy.
The threat was made by James Saville, a spokesman for Sharon Evans, a third person on the abuse inquiry. She runs a charity which includes Strictly Come Dancing star Kristina Rihanoff and Tony Blair’s daughter Kathryn among its trustees.
Last night, an MP said it sounded like another attempt at a cover-up. Labour’s Simon Danczuk said: ‘I find it bizarre. The last thing we want is for the Home Office, its representatives or PR people trying to silence journalists or to cover up the relationships that may have gone on.’
After a reporter had agreed last week to meet abuse survivor Graham Wilmer, who is on the inquiry panel, Mr Saville rang the journalist five minutes before the agreed interview time to say it had been called off. He then suggested the reporter had behaved improperly – a claim the journalist vehemently denies. In a reference to the new Independent Press Standards Organisation, Mr Saville said: ‘I don’t want to have to start getting Ipso involved.’
Mr Saville claimed to be working with Theresa May’s department, and suggested the reporter phone her head of press, Andy Tighe, if he did not believe him. But Mr Saville represents abuse victim Mrs Evans, who defended Mrs Woolf’s appointment in a BBC radio interview last week.
Mrs Evans runs a charity called the Dot Com Children’s Foundation, which has had significant support from the Home Office, including hosting a campaign launch where Strictly dancers showed off their moves to a room of civil servants.
As public criticism of Mrs Woolf intensified over her links to former Home Secretary Lord Brittan, Mrs Evans told Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday: ‘I am very confident this inquiry can do its job. We are satisfied that Fiona Woolf has the skills of a solicitor… We need balance and we need those skills.’
Trustees: Kathryn Blair and Kristina Rihanoff at the Dot Com Children’s Foundation Strictly-inspired event at the Home Office. The charity is run by abuse victim Sharon Evans – who defended Mrs Woolf this week
Yet her charity, whose trustees include Ms Blair and Ms Rihanoff, is helped by many of the organisations that will come under scrutiny in the inquiry, including the Home Office, which has admitted losing dozens of files on child abuse in the 1980s.
Mrs Evans admitted in her letter of possible conflicts of interest: ‘The Dot Com Children’s Foundation has received funding and support from a number of public sources including the Mayor of London’s office, the Fire Service through the Chief Officers’ Association, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Home Office, Foreign Office and Department for Education.’
The Home Office said it had not provided any funding to the Dot Com Children’s Foundation.
Last night Mr Tighe denied Mr Saville was working with the Home Office. But asked whether he had been speaking to Mr Saville, he refused to comment. ‘I understand he works for Sharon Evans – he’s nothing to do with the Home Office,’ Mr Tighe added.
This is turning into a farce – she must stand aside, writes Simon Danczuk, Labour MP who exposed Rochdale child abuse scandal
Fiona Woolf hasn’t even begun work on one of the most important inquiries in years – that of dragging dirty parliamentary secrets out into the open and challenging historic child abuse cover-ups – and she yet commands zero-confidence from abuse survivors across the country.
This story has now become a full-blown farce and is fast turning into a tragedy. It’s been painful listening to Woolf’s hopeless attempts to claim she’s somehow not close to Lord Brittan, who was Home Secretary when Geoffrey Dickens’s dossier of VIP child abuse allegations disappeared.
‘Yes,’ she admits, ‘I live in the same street as Lord Brittan and yes, I go to coffee mornings with Brittan’s wife and yes, I sit on a judging panel with her. And yes, I’ve entertained Lord Brittan in my house on several occasions, but none of this means I’m friendly with him. Of course there’s sufficient distance between me and Lord Brittan to do a thorough investigation.’
Close: Mrs Woolf (left) pictured with Lady Brittan (right), Lord Brittan’s wife, at a party last year
She must think the public are fools. Over the last few years, I’ve spoken to many victims of child sex abuse. This week I spoke again to some of them. Their views on Woolf were scathing.
‘Victims see her as the Sybil Fawlty of child sex abuse. She’s a joke,’ said one, who is giving evidence to Operation Fernbridge in London. At least Lady Butler-Sloss, who stood down because her brother was the Attorney General in the 1980s when reports of child abuse were not examined properly, responded quickly to criticism and realised it was inappropriate for her to continue.
Woolf has spent the last month stonewalling about her relationship with Brittan. When she did finally answer questions, she only made matters worse.
‘We were all pleased when Theresa May launched a child sex abuse inquiry,’ says Martin Digan, a former social worker who brought the Knowl View school sex scandal – where Cyril Smith was a governor – to light. ‘But now it just looks like a farce. Fiona Woolf is clearly not going to fearlessly challenge establishment abusers. It’s an insult to people who’ve had their hopes built up.’
Victims must have confidence in this inquiry. Woolf has to stand down. As long as she carries on treading water and defending her relationship with Lord Brittan, then the promise of justice and a day of reckoning for powerful, seemingly untouchable child abusers will remain hopelessly out of reach.
We haven’t reached this tragedy yet and it can still be avoided – but only if Woolf listens to victims and steps aside.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2807976/Pressure-grows-beleaguered-sex-abuse-enquiry-chief-Fiona-Woolf-resign.html#ixzz3HGpiTfqm
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