Chairwoman of inquiry into child sex abuse denies ‘close association’ with ex-minister
“I went the extra distance to make sure that I dug out every possible connection”
– Fiona Woolf, chairwoman, inquiry into child sex abuse
MPs this afternoon challenged the chairwoman of the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse over her links with Lord Brittan.
But Fiona Woolf, Lord Mayor of London, denied have a “close association” with him during her first public appearance as head of the inquiry at the House of Commons home affairs committee. Since she was appointed in September, Woolf has been under pressure to make a full declaration of her links with Brittan and his wife.
Woolf this morning declared social links with Brittan and his wife, as terms of reference for the inquiry were announced.
She told the committee this afternoon: “I do not have a close association with Lord Brittan.”
Her comments follow concerns – especially from victims of child sex abuse who allege a paedophile network at Westminster – that Woolf sits on the board of a City of London conference with Brittan, judges in annual City awards alongside his wife, Diana, and gave her a £50 donation and a chummy message for a charity fun-run last year. Woolf also lives a few doors away from the Brittans in Pimlico, London.
A letter published today from Woolf to Theresa May, home secretary, who announced the inquiry in July, declares her links to the Brittans. Woolf had the Brittans over to her home for dinner parties on three occasions. She also went to two dinner parties at theirs, and had coffee meetings with Lady Brittan on a few occasions.
A clearly nervous Woolf told MPs: “I went the extra distance to make sure that I dug out every possible connection.”
She said that the links should neither prevent her chairing the inquiry nor cast doubt on her impartiality.
May this morning announced the terms of reference for the inquiry, ahead of Woolf’s appearance before MPs. The inquiry is to cover government departments, police, prosecuting authorities, schools, local and health authorities, churches, political parties and armed forces – from 1970 to the present.
But it is to be limited to England and Wales, excluding allegations of abuse at Kincora boys’ home in East Belfast in Northern Ireland.
The inquiry will examine whether institutions failed over child sex abuse, and will advise on lessons to be learnt.
Information from “various published and unpublished reviews, court cases, investigations that have so far concluded” will be considered. The inquiry is to decide on how it will work, the role of abuse survivors and how it will take evidence.
John Leech, Liberal Democrat MP, has put down an early day motion calling for the terms of reference to be changed to focus on hearing evidence from abuse survivors. It calls for a new head of the inquiry who “has palpably demonstrated a willingness to challenge all quarters of the establishment.”
May also announced the inquiry panel’s members:
- Sharon Evans, chief executive of Dot Com Children’s Foundation, which promotes child safeguarding, and a former television journalist;
- Ivor Frank, a barrister who has acted on a range of cases, from commercial to human rights;
- Dame Moira Gibb, civil service commissioner and former chief executive of Camden council;
- Jenny Pearce, professor of young people and public policy at the University of Bedfordshire, director of International Centre: Researching Child Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Trafficking;
- Dru Sharpling, former chief crown prosecutor in London, who has worked for HM Inspectors of Constabulary (HMIC) since 2009;
- Prof Terence Stephenson, consultant in general pediatrics, who will chair the General Medical Council from January.
They will join Graham Wilmer and Barbara Hearn, whose appointments were announced last month alongside Woolf’s.
Simon Danczuk, one of seven MPs who initially called for the inquiry, initially expressed support for Woolf’s appointment. However, after learning of her links to Brittan, he described her position on the inquiry as “untenable”.
He was unimpressed with Woolf’s answers, telling Exaro: “The public will think that they are out to protect Leon Brittan.”
Two months after being named in Parliament over a lost dossier on VIP paedophiles, Lord Brittan stepped down as UBS Investment Bank’s vice-chairman.
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