Fiona Woolf (left) was with Lady Brittan (right) at the 2013 Dragon Awards at Mansion House in October last year – alongside journalist Martyn Lewis (centre) – but did not mention this meeting to MPs
When a government is forced to call a public inquiry, it almost invariably summons a judge or senior lawyer from the liberal Establishment in the expectation that he or she will come up with the ‘right’ recommendations.
So it was that, when in July the Home Secretary Theresa May finally assented to a major inquiry into historical sex abuse among Establishment figures, she turned to an 80-year-old former judge, Baroness Butler-Sloss.
This is the way things operate: the Establishment looks after its own.
Unfortunately, Mrs May overlooked the fact that Lady Butler-Sloss’s brother, Sir Michael Havers, had been Attorney General in the 1980s, and may have turned a blind eye to the very scandals she was supposed to investigate.
Against the wishes of the Home Office, she honourably stood down.
Whereupon Mrs May conjured up another Establishment figure, Fiona Woolf, a high-flying solicitor who is also Lord Mayor of London. Ms Woolf told the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday: ‘I am not a member of the Establishment.’ If she isn’t, who on Earth is?
It’s now clear that Ms Woolf is even more compromised than Lady Butler-Sloss, because she is friends with Lord Brittan, a central character in the drama. As Home Secretary in 1983, Lord (Leon) Brittan was handed a dossier by the then-Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens into the alleged involvement of VIP figures in a child sex ring. This explosive document was either lost or destroyed by the Home Office.
It’s surely obvious that Ms Woolf, virtuous and truthful though she must be, should stand aside. In a letter published on Tuesday, she disclosed she has dined with Lord Brittan and his wife five times since 2008. She had also had coffee with Lady Brittan on a ‘small number of occasions’, and sat on an advisory board with Lord Brittan.
There are calls for Fiona Woolf to quit after she admitted she entertained former Home Secretary Leon Brittan and his wife three times at dinner parties at her house, and twice went to his central London home for dinner
These revelations were contained in a letter written to Theresa May with the help (believe it or not) of officials from Mrs May’s own department. That doesn’t sound entirely regular, does it? Why can’t Ms Woolf write her own letters?
Since this concocted missive was despatched, a photograph has emerged of Fiona Woolf chatting to Lady Brittan at a prize-giving last October. Ms Woolf stands accused of misleading the Home Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday by omitting to mention this meeting. People will wonder how many other undeclared ones took place.
The fact is the Home Office, having lost one appointee, is desperate not to mislay another. Ms Woolf can’t be allowed to withdraw, whether she wants to or not. Her denial of friendship with Lord Brittan is absurd. Although lawyers representing victims of sexual abuse are calling for her resignation, she is clinging on in an undignified way.
Why can’t Mrs May and Ms Woolf understand they are undermining the inquiry? After all the cover-ups associated with practically every Establishment sex scandal, the one thing that was needed is transparency. Instead, we have the suspicion, however misplaced, that Lord Brittan will somehow be spared.
Cover-up after cover-up. For years, the late Liberal MP Cyril Smith abused boys in Rochdale. Three files about alleged child abuse were passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions, but without result.
After the heroic Labour MP Simon Danczuk published his revelations about Smith’s sordid activities earlier this year, the former Liberal leader, David Steel, described allegations made during Smith’s lifetime as ‘idle gossip’. Nick Clegg initially rejected calls for a further inquiry, saying that an internal investigation had established that no one knew anything.
So it goes on. More than 100 files about alleged sex abuse were mysteriously lost or destroyed by the Home Office. In 1984, a local newspaper editor, Don Hale, was warned off by three plain-clothes detectives and 12 uniformed policemen as he was about to publish the names of 16 MPs alleged to be paedophiles.
The vile activities of prominent Tory MPs, such as the late Sir Peter Morrison and the late Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, were hushed up by their Establishment pals. During a trial in 1991, grave allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of Greville Janner, then a Labour MP, were made under oath. Only now, more than 20 years later, are they being investigated by the police.
Don’t imagine that such conspiracies of silence belong to the past. Files relating to the sex abuse of more than 1,400 young girls in Rotherham — which continued until as recently as last year — have allegedly disappeared.
It is as though there is a kind of paedophile mafia operating at the heart of our political Establishment, protecting one another and suppressing every attempt at uncovering the truth. That is why it is so vital that the inquiry into historical sexual abuse is led by someone whose independence of mind cannot be questioned in the slightest way.
To be fair to Theresa May, the inquiry she has set up will be constructed along the lines of the highly successful investigation into the 1989 Hillsborough disaster under the enlightened chairmanship of the Bishop of Liverpool, assisted by a panel of independent people, most of them drawn from outside the ranks of the Establishment.
On Tuesday, the Home Office announced the composition of the panel investigating historical child abuse. Of the ten members, including Fiona Woolf, I can only count three who are lawyers. Most have experience of young children in a wide variety of fields and could not easily be described as Establishment figures.
That much is a relief, for there is a long tradition of governments setting up judge-led inquiries, which are intended to come up with conclusions and recommendations friendly to the powers that be.
Probably the most egregious example in modern times was the inquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Hutton (a senior judge) into the death of the weapons expert Dr David Kelly in 2003, which conveniently absolved Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell. Will the absurdly delayed Chilcot Inquiry into the circumstances of the Iraq War do the same?
And when the Government decided that it wanted to rein in a free Press, it called for Lord Justice Leveson, a paid-up member of the liberal Establishment if there ever was one, in the certain belief that he would come up with proposals to curb newspapers.
Incidentally, the BBC is not above employing the same ruse as practised by successive governments. After its executives had killed off a programme investigating the activities of the now-disgraced presenter Jimmy Savile, a well-disposed television executive was recruited to produce a report about the affair. Unsurprisingly, he found very little wrong with the BBC.
An inquiry into historical sexual abuse that came up with anodyne conclusions exonerating everyone involved would be rightly greeted with a mixture of hilarity and disbelief.
Of course, it’s possible that, guided by an independent-minded panel, Fiona Woolf would do a good job. But if Theresa May insists that she stay, her leadership of the investigation is liable to hobble its deliberations, and even throw doubt on its conclusions.
The public believes — rightly, I am sure — that there has been some sort of Establishment cover-up of widespread sexual abuse. The evidence for it is everywhere you look. Only yesterday, a damning report revealed that a former Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, drew a veil over the paedophile activities of a very senior Anglican cleric.
I expect Ms Woolf is a decent, public-spirited person. She must surely realise that her friendship with Lord Brittan — who has many important questions to answer — disqualifies her from carrying out the responsibilities she accepted, no doubt in good faith.
Theresa May is only a politician, and the pressure she is applying to Fiona Woolf can be very easily ignored. If she goes, it will be a victory for honesty and open- mindedness. If she refuses to budge, people will say that it is just another Establishment stitch-up.