The pressure is mounting on Fiona Woolf, chair of the inquiry into historic child sex abuse allegations, to step down. Victims’ groups are expected to tell officials running the inquiry that they would like Woolf to resign. The groups, including the NSPCC, which has so far declined to outright oppose or back Woolf, are meeting representatives of the inquiry today.
Woolf is under such fire both because of her lack of experience in child abuse cases and close links to Lord Brittan, having attended dinner parties with him. Brittan was the Home Secretary when ministers at his department were handed the infamous dossier on alleged high-profile child abusers. The letter Woolf sent to the Home Secretary Theresa May about her links to the Brittans was rewritten seven times, according to the chair of the Home Affairs select committee Keith Vaz, who claims later versions of the letter express “a sense of greater detachment” between Woolf and Brittan.
But what is Labour’s reaction to the idea that the second chair of this inquiry should stand down? So far, the party – aside from individual MPs involved in the story, such as Simon Danczuk – has not gone so far as to call for Woolf’s resignation. However, it is clear that there are some differing opinions on the matter among the shadow cabinet, as the shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint said a couple of weeks ago, “I just don’t think at this stage it’s viable that she’s the person that leads this and takes it forward.”
The shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper criticises her opposite number’s approach to the situation, and suggests that if she doesn’t fix the problem “immediately” then she may have to “go back to the drawing board”. Her statement suggests Labour is inching closer to calling for Woolf’s resignation:
Months after she first announced her inquiry into child abuse, Theresa May has totally failed to get it off the ground. Why has it taken her over a week to meet with victims groups who raise concerns about the suitability of Fiona Woolf? She should have done this immediately.
This child abuse inquiry is really important but it will completely fail if no one has confidence in it – and particularly if victims do not trust it. It won’t work if there is a perception that information has been covered up. Nor will it work if there are continual unanswered questions.
Theresa May urgently needs to show her appointed chair and expert panel have the independence, impartiality and credibility with victims to take forward this incredibly important work.
If this isn’t finally sorted out immediately as a result of the meetings with victims this week, Theresa May will need to go back to the drawing board. We are badly risking the whole inquiry failing before it has even started.