Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, a former High Court judge, faced calls to step down from the moment she was appointed.
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Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss resigns as head of child abuse inquiry

Former High Court judge steps down over conflicts of interest. 

It's another shambles for David Cameron: the government has just announced that Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss has stepped down as head of the child abuse inquiry. No.10 insisted at this morning's lobby briefing that the decision was her own and that Cameron and Theresa May continued to believe that she was the right person to lead the panel. May spoke to Butler-Sloss by phone at the weekend but only after she had made her decision to resign. 

Here's Downing Street's statement on the news:

[Lady Butler-Sloss] has taken the decision to step down as chair of the panel inquiry. It is entirely her decision. The government's view hasn't changed, that she would have done a first-class job as chair. The reasons for her appointment still absolutely stand in terms of her professional expertise and her integrity, which I don't think has been questioned from any quarter whatsoever, and rightly so.

Calls for the former high court judge's resignation began almost immediately after her appointment last week owing to the fact her brother, Michael Havers, served as Margaret Thatcher's attorney general from 1979 to 1987, the period when many of the offences are alleged to have taken place (No.10 insists that Cameron was aware of this). They then intensified when the Times reported on Saturday that she excluded allegations about a bishop from of a review of how the Church of England dealt with two priests allegedly involved in paedophilia because she "cared about the Church". 

Here's Butler-Sloss's statement in full:

I was honoured to be invited by the Home Secretary to chair the wide-ranging inquiry about child sexual abuse and hoped I could make a useful contribution.

It has become apparent over the last few days, however, that there is a widespread perception, particularly among victim and survivor groups, that I am not the right person to chair the inquiry. It has also become clear to me that I did not sufficiently consider whether my background and the fact my brother had been Attorney General would cause difficulties.

This is a victim-orientated inquiry and those who wish to be heard must have confidence that the members of the panel will pay proper regard to their concerns and give appropriate advice to Government.

Nor should media attention be allowed to be diverted from the extremely important issues at stake, namely whether enough has been done to protect children from sexual abuse and hold to account those who commit these appalling crimes.

Having listened to the concerns of victim and survivor groups and the criticisms of MPs and the media, I have come to the conclusion that I should not chair this inquiry and have so informed the Home Secretary.

I should like to add that I have dedicated my life to public service, to the pursuit of justice and to protecting the rights of children and families and I wish the inquiry success in its important work.

Theresa May, who will face questions on the subject when she appears before the home affairs select committee at 3pm, said:

I am deeply saddened by Baroness Butler-Sloss’s decision to withdraw but understand and respect her reasons. Baroness Butler-Sloss is a woman of the highest integrity and compassion and continues to have an enormous contribution to make to public life.

As she has said herself, the work of this inquiry is more important than any individual and an announcement will be made on who will take over the chairmanship and membership of the panel as soon as possible so this important work can move forward.

A new chair for the wide-ranging inquiry, which will examine how the government, the NHS, the BBC and other public institutions handled allegations of abuse, will now be appointed. Given the seriousness of the issue, and the imminent cabinet reshuffle, this self-inflicted mess has come at a bad time for Cameron. 

The key decision facing the government now is whether to appoint another establishment figure to lead the inquiry, or whether, as many would prefer, to recruit a more distant outsider. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?