Panel members strongly reject concerns over inquiry chairwoman’s links to Leon Brittan
“I am disturbed by the apparent links between the new chair and Lord Brittan, who is alleged to be at the heart of the paedophile scandal and cover-up”
– Simon Danczuk, Labour MP
Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf is preparing to make a statement to dismiss concerns about her chairing the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse.
Whitehall sources say that Woolf will “robustly” reject claims that her links with Lord Brittan and his wife make her position as head of the inquiry untenable.
Woolf is on a trip to Africa in her capacity as Lord Mayor of London, and will issue the statement after she returns to the UK. The Home Office is drafting the statement, according to sources at the department.
Leon (now Lord) Brittan is at the centre of a storm over what happened to a dossier on VIP paedophiles that was handed to the Home Office in 1984 when he was home secretary.
But fellow members of the panel that will hold the inquiry are strongly backing Woolf, who is a corporate lawyer by background, but with no expertise in CSA issues.
Graham Wilmer, director of the Lantern Project, a charity that supports victims of child sex abuse (CSA), is one of two people appointed to the panel so far, and dismissed concerns about Woolf’s links to Lord Brittan and his wife.
Wilmer told Exaro: “I think that she is the right person for the job. We need someone who is not involved in the issues of child sex abuse who can apply a legal mind to a very complex and wide-ranging inquiry.
“I have been on too many inquiries entirely composed of experts on child sex abuse who spend their time arguing and do not come to a conclusion.”
Exaro understands that the other panel member, Barbara Hearn, former deputy chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, takes the same position, although Exaro was unable to reach her for comment.
Hearn has also been a CSA researcher for Tom Watson, the MP who two years ago suggested in Parliament that a paedophile ring had been linked to Downing Street.
Woolf’s statement will follow the publication of details of some of her links to the Brittans last week. Woolf:
sits on the board of a City of London conference with Brittan;
judges in annual City awards, alongside Brittan’s wife, Diana;
gave Lady Brittan a £50 donation and a chummy, good-luck message when she took part in a charity fun-run last year;
lives a few doors away from the Brittans in Pimlico, London.
In addition, Woolf was a JP at the City of London magistrates’ court for three years to 2010 while Lady Brittan was chairwoman of the same magistrates’ bench.
Watson believes that delaying the inquiry poses greater risks than keeping Woolf as its chairwoman.
However, Simon Danczuk, who joined Watson, a fellow Labour MP, in a cross-party call for the inquiry in June, described Woolf’s position as “untenable” after initially expressing tentative support for her appointment.
On Thursday, Danczuk raised the issue with William Hague, leader of the House of Commons, saying: “Although I am anxious for the inquiry to be got up and running, I am disturbed by the apparent links between the new chair and Lord Brittan, who is alleged to be at the heart of the paedophile scandal and cover-up surrounding Westminster.
“Does the leader of the House share my concerns, and does he agree that there should be a debate on this issue in the House?”
Hague replied: “We are all anxious for the inquiry to get underway, as he says. Fiona Woolf has had a long and distinguished career. She has held high-profile and challenging positions, including as president of the Law Society and chairman of the Association of Women Solicitors, and she is only the second woman since the year 1189 to hold the position of Lord Mayor of London.
“She is a very distinguished person, who is well able to conduct the inquiry to the very highest standards of integrity.
“The government is therefore confident that she has the skills and experience needed to set the direction of the inquiry, lead the work of the panel, challenge individuals and institutions without fear or favour, really get into this issue and stop these terrible things happening again. I think that we should support her in doing this work.”
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