Tom Montague — Daily Mail Oct 31, 2014
The head of the Government’s child abuse resigned tonight after victims groups unanimously called for her to go after a crunch Home Office meeting.
Fiona Woolf told the Home Secretary that she did not have the confidence of the victims and needed to step aside for the sake of the inquiry.
She said: ‘I did not think it was going to be possible for me to chair it without everybody’s support.’
She had been facing mounting pressure to step down because of her personal relationship to the Tory peer Leon Brittan, who has denied failing to act on a dossier of paedophilia allegations he received while in office in the 1980s.
Campaigners said the entire process would be ‘a dead duck in the water’ if the corporate lawyer and lord mayor of London was allowed to remain in her post.
Mrs Woolf is the second chair to resign before the inquiry has even started, after Baroness Butler-Sloss stepped down because her brother was Attorney General in the 1980s.
She had been left clinging on to her position after it emerged she re-wrote a letter to the Home Secretary seven times playing down her links to Lord Brittan.
The different versions of the letter emerged yesterday just two days after a Labour MP used parliamentary privilege to link Lord Brittan to ‘improper conduct with children’.
Mrs Woolf said she had decided to stand down after representatives of alleged child abuse victims met officials from the inquiry for the first time today.
She said: ‘I was determined that the inquiry got to the bottom of the issues and if I don’t command their confidence to run the panel fairly and impartially then I need to get out of the way.
‘It has been brewing for some time. Ever since the issue first arose I have been worrying about the negative perceptions and there has been a lot of negative comment and innuendo and that has got in the way as well.’
Speaking after the meeting today – which Mrs Woold did not attend – Alison Millar, head of the abuse team at law firm Leigh Day which represents survivors of child abuse, said: ‘Representatives of survivors were unanimous that Fiona Woolf is unsuitable to lead this inquiry.’
Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, added: ‘We are unanimous in our feeling that Fiona Woolf cannot remain as chair.’
Home Secretary Theresa May tonight accepted Mrs Woolf’s decision. She said: ‘It is with regret that I accepted Fiona Woolf’s resignation today. I believe she would have carried out her duties with integrity, impartiality and to the highest standard.
‘I decided to set up this inquiry because it’s imperative that we establish the extent to which institutions in this country have taken seriously their duty of care towards children. Recent reports from Rotherham and Greater Manchester demonstrate the importance of this work.
‘As with Hillsborough, the best way to do this is through an independent panel inquiry. I believe we have a panel which brings a wide range of experience and expertise and one that survivors can have confidence in.
‘The panel will continue with its work while we appoint a new chairman. I will be making a statement to Parliament on Monday outlining the next steps: I will meet survivors’ groups and consult with relevant parliamentarians. I’ve also agreed with Keith Vaz that the nominated Chairman of the Panel will attend a confirmation hearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee.’
Former home secretary Leon Brittan strenuously denies accusations that he is at the centre of a cover-up over historic sex abuse claims.
It is alleged that, while in charge of the Home Office, he ignored a document – which later went missing – that described a paedophile ring involving high-profile figures.
Mrs Woolf, who was appointed last month to lead the investigation, wrote a letter to current Home Secretary Mrs May to list her possible conflicts of interests.
She lists five dinner parties among the contacts she has had with Lord Brittan and his wife, who live on the same street as her.
As well as inviting the Brittans to dinner at her house three times, Mrs Woolf dined at theirs twice, met Lady Brittan for coffee, sat on a prize-giving panel with her, and sponsored her £50 for a fun run.
Yesterday the home affairs select committee published the seven drafts that showed the letter was repeatedly amended.
Committee chairman Mr Vaz MP said the re-writes gave a sense of ‘detachment’ between Lord and Lady Brittan and Mrs Woolf.
Saying the letter ‘raises more questions than it answers’, he said facts as well as words were altered.
‘It is extraordinary that Mrs Woolf did not even write the first draft of her letter, which was supposed to detail her own personal experiences.
‘The letter then underwent seven drafts with a multiplicity of editors. The final version gave a sense of greater detachment between Lord and Lady Brittan and Mrs Woolf than her previous attempts.’
Early versions of the letter detailing the dinner parties include language such as ‘I returned the compliment’ and ‘we engaged in another exchange of dinner parties’. But this was deleted in the final version.
In one of the first drafts, she wrote: ‘I live on the same street as the Brittan’s (sic)’. But it was changed to ‘I have had a house in London as the same street as the Brittans’.
The Home Secretary’s first choice to head up the child abuse inquiry Baroness Butler-Sloss was forced to resign after it emerged her brother, Michael Havers, may have had to make legal decisions about abuse allegations in his role as attorney general in the 1980s.
In the letter, Mrs Woolf – who is the Lord Mayor of London – stated that she had no ‘social contact’ with Lord and Lady Brittan since April 23 last year.
But a photo emerged of her chatting to Lady Brittan at a prize-giving last October.