UK

Fiona Woolf Faces Fresh Scrutiny Over Re-Written Letter Playing Down Links To Lord Brittan Ahead Of Inquiry Into Child Abuse

30/10/2014 18:40 GMT | Updated 30/10/2014 18:59 GMT
PA

Fiona Woolf faced fresh pressure about her role at head of a Government inquiry into child abuse after the chairman of an influential group of MPs said her attempt to detail her contact with former home secretary Lord Brittan tried to play down her links with the former cabinet minister and his wife.

A letter Mrs Woolf wrote to Home Secretary Theresa May stated that she had no "social contact" with Lord and Lady Brittan since April 23 2013. But the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz said there were seven drafts of the letter and the final version "gave a sense of greater detachment" between Lord and Lady Brittan and Mrs Woolf than her previous attempts.

Mr Vaz had written to City lawyer Mrs Woolf after a photograph surfaced showing her chatting to Lady Brittan at a prize-giving last October. The Labour MP said the 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 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."

Mrs Woolf was appointed last month to chair the panel inquiring into UK institutions' handling of child sex abuse allegations, after the original nominee Lady Butler-Sloss stepped down because her late brother, Lord Havers, was attorney general during much of the period in question.

However, there has been criticism since it was revealed she has lived on the same London street as Lord Brittan - who is likely to be called to give evidence - for a decade. Former home secretary Lord Brittan denies failing to act on a dossier of paedophilia allegations he received while in office in the 1980s.

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". But Alison Millar, a solicitor representing alleged abuse victims, repeated her call for Mrs Woolf to be replaced. In her response to Mr Vaz's request for more information, Mrs Woolf, the Lord Mayor of London, said she did not recall any "substantial interaction" with Lady Brittan at the October 2013 event at which they were photographed together.

She said: "I can confirm that, to the best of my knowledge at the time, I disclosed in my letter to the Home Secretary the main interaction I have had with both Lord and Lady Brittan. I understand that subsequently a photograph has been reproduced in the media of Lady Brittan with Martyn Lewis and me, taken at the Dragon Awards Dinner at Mansion House in October 2013, before I became Lord Mayor.

"In my letter to the Home Secretary I made clear that Lady Brittan had been a judge of the Dragon Awards for a number of years. As I also said in my letter, many people were invited to the annual and other banquets and dinners hosted by the City of London Corporation, of which this was one, and Lord and Lady Brittan may have attended some of these and other City-related events.

"The photograph captures one moment of an entire evening and I do not recall any substantial interaction with Lady Brittan among the scores of other guests." Mrs Woolf also confirmed that she and Lord Brittan had both been at an event attended by the French prime minister in 2011, but added that "I do not recall any interaction" with the former home secretary.

She added that it was "sometimes impossible" to establish who was present at events "given the enormous range, number and scale" of those organised by the City of London Corporation and other organisations she was associated with. Mrs Woolf disclosed that the first draft of her letter to Mrs May was written by the solicitor and counsel to her inquiry, which she "reviewed and reworked" with their assistance.

Ms 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."