Woolf under new pressure to quit

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Published: Friday 31st October 2014 by The News Editor

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Fiona Woolf is facing fresh pressure to quit as the head of the Government’s inquiry into historical child abuse after the chairman of an influential group of MPs claimed drafts of letters to the Home Secretary showed she attempted to play down links with former Cabinet minister Lord Brittan and his wife.

Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz said the final version of the letter sent by Mrs Woolf to Theresa May ” gave a sense of greater detachment” between Mrs Woolf and the Brittans than the earlier documents.

The disclosure of the drafts intensified calls for Mrs Woolf to stand down and led to questions about the role of Home Office and inquiry officials in helping to produce the letter.

Mrs Woolf’s links to former home secretary Lord Brittan have come under scrutiny because he is likely to be called to give evidence to the inquiry about his handling of child abuse allegations.

The former Cabinet minister denies failing to act on a dossier of paedophilia allegations he received while in office in the 1980s.

The drafts of the letter from Mrs Woolf to the Home Secretary were published in a response to Mr Vaz after he requested more information about her contact with the Brittans.

He said Mrs Woolf’s reply to him “raises more questions than it answers” about her appointment, which came after the original choice to chair the inquiry panel Baroness Butler-Sloss stood down because her late brother, Lord Havers, was attorney general during much of the period in question.

Labour MP Mr Vaz said his committee would decide in a meeting next week whether Mrs Woolf should be recalled to give further evidence to them.

He said: “Mrs Woolf’s letter to the Committee raises more questions than it answers about an appointment process that has been chaotic, and a series of exchanges with the Home Office and others, where words, and sometimes even facts, have been amended.

“It is extraordinary that Mrs Woolf did not even write the first draft of her letter which was supposed to detail her own personal experiences. The letter then underwent seven drafts with a multiplicity of editors.

“The final version gave a sense of greater detachment between Lord and Lady Brittan and Mrs Woolf than her previous attempts.

“The lessons of the Butler-Sloss appointment and resignation have not been learned. There should have been full disclosure of this information before, not after, her appointment.”

In her letter to the Home Secretary, Lord Mayor of London Mrs Woolf said she had lived in the same street as the Brittans since 2004 and as well as inviting the Brittans to dinner at her house three times, she has dined at theirs twice, met Lady Brittan for coffee, sat on a prize-giving panel with her, and sponsored her £50 for a fun run.

Mrs Woolf insisted that the work done by her panel would be “thorough, will pull no punches and show no favours”.

She had told Mrs May that she had no “social contact” with Lord and Lady Brittan since April 23 2013.

But Mr Vaz sought clarification from the City lawyer after a photograph surfaced showing her chatting to Lady Brittan at a prize-giving last October.

In her response to Mr Vaz’s request for more information, Mrs Woolf said she did not recall any “substantial interaction” with Lady Brittan at the October 2013 event at which they were photographed together.

Mrs Woolf disclosed that the first draft of her letter to the Home Secretary was written by the solicitor and counsel to her inquiry, which she “reviewed and reworked” with their assistance.

The drafts were also circulated to officials in the Home Office and lawyers representing Mrs May in legal proceedings about the inquiry.

In an early draft Mrs Woolf said: “I first met with Lord Brittan in a personal capacity when I was invited by Lady Brittan to a dinner party hosted at their residence in 2008. From recollection there were approximately eight people at this dinner.

“I returned the compliment and I hosted a dinner party at my residence about six months later. We engaged in another exchange of dinner parties after I was elected Sheriff of the City of London in 2011.”

A later, undated draft, said “from my recollection there were no other guests who attended” the dinners at the Brittans’ house.

By the final version, there were more details about the dinner parties, but Mrs Woolf indicated that they were focused on City of London matters, rather then purely social occasions.

She told Mrs May: “I was first introduced to Lady Brittan through a third party. I subsequently met Lord Brittan in a personal capacity when I invited Lord and Lady Brittan to a dinner party at my residence on 9 January 2008.

“From recollection there were at least four other people present. I hosted two further dinner parties at my residence, where Lord and Lady Brittan were invited and attended along with other guests.

“These took place on 27 October 2008 and 9 February 2009. At these occasions my diary indicates that other Aldermen, including former Lord Mayors, were also present, suggesting that City matters were a significant focus of the occasions.

“The Brittans hosted two dinner parties at their residence, which I was invited to and attended on 10 November 2009 and 15 February 2012. From my recollection there were at least four other guests who attended.”

Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who has campaigned on the issue of child sexual abuse, accused the Home Office of “colluding in covering up” Mrs Woolf’s links with the Brittans.

He told LBC Radio: “It seems very bizarre. The reality is that the Home Office are colluding in covering up Fiona Woolf’s closeness to Leon Brittan because if you look at the first draft through to the seventh draft … you can quite clearly see that there are changes in terms of tone, language, some of the facts are even changed to give the impression that Fiona Woolf is not as close to Leon Brittan as you might have thought when you read the first letter.”

The Rochdale MP repeated his call for Mrs Woolf to be replaced as the inquiry’s chairman.

“I think she should go now, it is the final nail, I don’t think she will be able to survive this,” he said.

Solicitor Alison Millar, from the law firm Leigh Day which is representing abuse victims, said: “What is immediately striking in Fiona Woolf’s response to the chairman of the committee is the admission that she did not draft the initial letter.

“Even more shocking is that it went through seven drafts before it was ‘approved’. The full extent of her relationship with Lord and Lady Brittan, which is still not entirely clear, only slowly unravels through these draft letters sent between Mrs Woolf and the Home Office.

“This response by Mrs Woolf will only cement in the minds of my clients that she is not the right person to head this inquiry.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Mrs May needed to meet victims and show that Mrs Woolf had the “independence, impartiality and credibility” for the role or “go back to the drawing board”.

The Home Office said it remained confident in Mrs Woolf and her panel.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Fiona Woolf wrote to the Home Secretary to disclose anything she thought might cast doubt on her impartiality as chairman of the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse.

“Her letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee further demonstrates her commitment to openness and transparency in the course of her duties.

“The panel inquiry was established in order to determine the extent to which institutions have taken seriously their duty of care towards children, and recent reports into child abuse in Rotherham and Greater Manchester demonstrate the importance of this work.

“We remain confident Fiona Woolf and the Panel members can carry out their duties to the highest standards of impartiality and integrity.”

Published: Friday 31st October 2014 by The News Editor

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