Pressure mounts on child abuse inquiry chair to quit after victims say she is ‘beyond the pale’ for dining with top Tory Leon Brittan

Published October 22, 2014 by JS2

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  • Theresa May appointed Fiona Woolf after her original choice quit
  • Lady Butler-Sloss stepped down because her brother was attorney general 
  • But Woolf admitted she is a dinner party friend of top Tory Leon Brittan 
  • Brittan rejects claims he failed to act on 1980s dossier of abuse allegations 
  • Lawyer for victims said Mrs Woolf was ‘beyond the pale’ over links
  • Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg distances himself from Mrs Woolf 
  • Victim of child sex abuse launches legal challenge to her appointment

The new chairman of the government inquiry into child sex abuse is facing growing pressure to resign today – after victims dismissed her as ‘beyond the pale’ over her links to top Tory Leon Brittan.

Fiona Woolf admitted she entertained Lord Brittan and his wife three times at dinner parties at her house, and twice went to his central London home for dinner. The former Home Secretary is accused of burying a dossier on child sex abuse given to him in 1983.

It emerged however that the list of meetings with Lord Brittan which she gave to MPs may have been incomplete, after a photograph surfaced showing her chatting to the Torry peer’s wife at a prize-giving last October.

Lawyer Alison Millar representing child abuse victims said the revelations showed Mrs Woolf was not fit to oversee the official inquiry. A victim of historical child sexual abuse has also launched a legal challenge to Mrs Woolf’s appointment.

Nick Clegg today distanced himself from Mrs Woolf and a host of MPs called for her to step down.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the decision to pick Mrs Woolf, the Lord Mayor of London, had been made after ‘an extensive process and recommendation’ by Home Secretary Theresa May.

But the Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron went further and called for her to quit. He said: ‘This is Theresa May’s appointment and again it looks like she has picked someone whose independence can be seriously questioned.’ Labour frontbenchers Jim Murphy and Caroline Flint also called for her to step down.

Asked whether Mrs Woolf should step down, Ms Millar – represents a number of abuse victims whose cases are likely to be raised in the inquiry – said: ‘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.’

Ms Millar told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘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.

‘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.

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Abuse survivor Phil Frampton, who supports other victims of abuse in care homes, told the Today programme: ‘I am absolutely appalled at Fiona Woolf’s appointment. It’s like putting Wayne Rooney in charge of an investigation of the nuclear energy industry.

‘What appals me is that this is about very, very serious crimes and horror for children, and adults who are living with it still. It’s like putting a few puppets in place to deal with the seriousness of the situation.’

Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming called on Mrs Woolf to stand down, describing her appointment as ‘a mistake’. Mr Hemming, who was one of the first MPs to call for an inquiry, told the BBC:

‘Appointing Fiona Woolf is … a mistake. She’s clearly a fully fledged member of the establishment. I think she should stand down because an independent observer would think there’s a possibility of bias.’

Another victim of alleged abuse in local authority care, who could not be named for legal reasons, told the Today programme: ‘Everyone deserves a chance, but I thought she lacks a huge amount of credibility from a victim’s perspective.

‘She talks about ‘victim communities’. There is no such thing as a victim community. All the victims have had to live their lives in mainstream society carrying some terrible, terrible scars and being ostracised by society by and large.

‘And yet we have the lord mayor of London to represent victims. It’s laughable.’

Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, who led the campaign for an inquiry, said Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan were ‘clearly good friends’ and she should stand down.

Mr Danczuk said she seemed ‘out of her depth’ in her appearance before the MPs’ committee yesterday. And he made the extraordinary claim the Home Office may have been trying to ‘protect’ Lord Brittan with the appointment.

‘I have serious concerns about the relationship between Fiona Woolf and Leon Brittan,’ he said. ‘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.

‘The public will be concerned they are trying to protect Lord Brittan.’

He added: ‘The vast majority of people I know, if you have somebody round for dinner in your home, you would consider them a good friend. She should not be doing this job.’

Lord Brittan is likely to be called to give evidence to the inquiry about allegations – which he denies – that in his time as Home Secretary in the Eighties he was at the centre of an Establishment cover-up of sex abuse claims.

Mrs Woolf, who lives on the same street as the peer, also met his wife for coffee several times, sat on a prize-giving panel with her, and sponsored her £50 for a charity run.

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Former Home Secretary Lord Brittan is accused of failing to act on a dossier about alleged VIP paedophile rings given to him by MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983.

The peer has denied the claims. Mrs Woolf, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday, insisted the inquiry would ‘relentlessly uncover the truth for the victims’.

Details of Mrs Woolf’s contacts with the Brittans emerged in a letter she sent to Home Secretary Theresa May, published yesterday.She said they lived on the same street since 2004, and invited the couple to a party at her home in January 2008, October 2008 and February 2009.

She also attended dinner parties hosted by Lord Brittan in November 2009 and February 2012. Mrs Woolf told the committee she was given Home Office help in drafting the letter.

Labour MP Keith Vaz, the committee chairman, said it was a ‘bit odd’ a draft of the letter was seen by the Home Office before it was sent to Mrs May. ‘Surely you should have written your own letter?’ he asked.

Labour MP Paul Flynn pointed out the first choice as inquiry chair, Lady Butler-Sloss, had withdrawn because her brother was Attorney General during some of the period in question. ‘You seem to be an Establishment figure as well. Shouldn’t you resign in the interest of the report being accepted?’ he asked.

Labour MP for Bassetlaw John Mann said it was ‘totally impossible’ for Mrs Woolf to chair the inquiry.

Mrs Woolf was given the full backing of Downing Street and the Home Office. A Number 10 spokesman insisted Mrs Woolf had the Prime Minister’s confidence, and she and the panel would ‘carry out their duties to the high standards of integrity required’.

Before MPs Mrs Woolf, a former president of the Law Society and the current Lord Mayor of London, insisted she was not a member of the Establishment and was an ‘ordinary solicitor’. She said Lord Brittan was ‘one of thousands’ of people she knew in London.

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Tom Mctague

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One comment on “Pressure mounts on child abuse inquiry chair to quit after victims say she is ‘beyond the pale’ for dining with top Tory Leon Brittan

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