Fiona Woolf has security clearance as Theresa May took charge of panel appointments

By David HenckeMark Watts and Tim Wood | 6 September 2014

“I am delighted that the home secretary has appointed Fiona Woolf, who has no baggage in this area” – Tim Loughton, former children’s minister

Home secretary Theresa May has taken a crucial step to ensure that the inquiry into child sex abuse can examine intelligence documents, Exaro can reveal.

Fiona Woolf, who was appointed yesterday to chair the overarching inquiry, has security clearance to read such material, well-placed sources told Exaro.

MPs who initiated the call for the inquiry see this as crucial for it to have any chance of uncovering the truth about organised sexual abuse of children at a wide array of institutions in the UK over many years, including allegations that go to the heart of the establishment.

Whitehall sources revealed that May took personal charge of appointing Woolf to the role, as well as the initial members of the panel and its advisors.

If comes after Baroness Butler-Sloss was forced to step down as inquiry chairwoman after a row over potential conflicts of interest. According to Whitehall sources, that appointment was made in Downing Street.

But May was horrified over the debacle after officials had failed to warn that Butler-Sloss’s late brother had limited an investigation into the sexual abuse of children 30 years ago at Kincora boys’ home in Northern Ireland, which is a likely subject area for the inquiry.

The home secretary, determined to avoid a repeat, consulted some of the MPs who had started the cross-party call for the inquiry.

Whitehall sources revealed that May even bypassed the specialist unit at the Home Office that sets up panel inquiries.

She decided that the head of the inquiry should have no background in issues related to child sex abuse (CSA), but must be advised by people who do.

The Home Office drew up a longlist of at least 60 candidates, carried out due diligence on each, then reduced it to three.

Woolf is Lord Mayor of London and a corporate lawyer by background. In a statement issued by the Home Office, Woolf described the role as “a vital and solemn undertaking”.

May said: “In recent years, we have seen appalling cases of organised and persistent child sex abuse which have exposed serious failings by public bodies and important institutions.

“These failings have sent shockwaves through the country and shaken public confidence in the pillars of society in which we should have total trust.

“That is why the government has announced that an independent panel of experts will consider whether such organisations have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.”

Survivors of child sex abuse are suspicious about Woolf’s establishment links. One told Exaro: “I do question whether she is too close to the establishment to be trusted by all survivors.”

Simon Danczuk, one of the seven MPs who initially called for the inquiry in June, expressed support for Woolf’s appointment, but said that he “would not have looked to the City” to find someone for the job.

Tim Loughton, former children’s minister and another of the initial seven MPs, told Exaro: “I am delighted that the home secretary has appointed Fiona Woolf, who has no baggage in this area but will be advised by independently-minded people who are experts in their field.”

May also announced that Woolf will be assisted by Graham Wilmer, director of the Lantern Project, a charity that supports victims of child sex abuse, and Barbara Hearn, former deputy chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, and a specialist researcher on the issue for Tom Watson, the MP who two years ago raised in Parliament whether a paedophile ring had been linked to Downing Street.

Wilmer told Exaro: “I am delighted to be appointed to the independent panel. The home secretary has shown great courage in appointing members who are not part of the establishment, and thinking outside the box.”

May also appointed Alexis Jay, author of last month’s damning report on abuse of children in Rotherham, as expert advisor to the panel. Ben Emmerson, a barrister who specialises in human rights and a founder member of Matrix Chambers, will be counsel to the inquiry.

The initial panel is due to meet next week to appoint further members, and start discussing terms of reference.

Last week, Exaro revealed that police have delayed nearly 200 charges under their investigation into a paedophile network linked to politicians.

Related Stories : Child sex abuse, Fernbridge and Fairbank: Exaro story thread

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