Will the second attempt by Theresa May, the home secretary, to restart the process of setting up an overarching inquiry into child sexual abuse fall into another elephant trap?
Within days of her appointment Fiona Woolf, the Lord Mayor of London and lawyer, to chair the inquiry questions about her suitability have surfaced in the Mail on Sunday because of her links with the family of Leon Brittan.
Survivors who might be tempted to give evidence will be alarmed at any link with Leon Brittan for many reasons.The row about the loss of papers by the Home Office sent in by the former MP the late Geoffrey Dickens which are alleged to named paedophiles during his watch in the early 1980s is one.
He is also- even though he vehemently denies the allegation – still the subject of a Met Police investigation into the rape of young woman before he became an MP.
Fiona Woolf needs to clarify exactly what the relationship with her neighbours, the Brittans is- not for prurient interest in her private life – but to assure worried survivors that no friendship will cloud judgements. Frankly it shouldn’t. If it is purely tenuous there should be no problem, if it isn’t there could be one.
But why are we back to this?
Given the furore over the appointment of first chair, Baroness Butler- Sloss, who resigned after Exaro revealed the conflict of interest because her late brother, Lord Havers, a former attorney general, had been involved in restricting the terms of the inquiry into the Kincora scandal in Northern Ireland, you would have thought every avenue would have been followed to avoid a similar problem.
As I reported over the weekend on the Exaro website indeed at least 60 candidates were considered and it was said to have been properly vetted by home office officials.
But before a final judgement is made we need to see the full picture – the full terms of reference, the rest of the people appointed to the inquiry, and then pass judgement.
This is because the rest of the appointments – some of them brave – do ensure there will be independent voices on the panel.None of the rest can be connected with the Establishment.
Graham Wilmer, whom followers of this blog will be familiar,is no push over. He is a survivor himself, a vigorous campaigner against abuse in the Salesian order, and also runs the Lantern project in the Wirral which helps survivors, though has not received the money that is needed to really tackle the problem. He also sits on a committee about safeguarding survivors chaired by the Bishop of Durham, which is currently looking at what more work it should do.
Barbara Hearn, the former deputy chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, whom I have also met, has been wrongly traduced on Twitter just because in a previous age the body was associated with the paedophile Peter Righton. At the moment she is providing campaigning MP Tom Watson – who raised the Righton scandal in Parliament- with expert help on how to help and counsel the many survivors who come to him.. For the record she is doing this on a voluntary basis, the antithesis of the view that anyone in Parliament must be on a gravy train.
Then there is Professor Alexis Jay, who as expert adviser, to the committee, record speaks for itself. She is the person who exposed the unbelievable scandal in Rotherham – a fount of knowledge of the exploitation of young people by sex abusers.
Finally there is the counsel, Ben Emmerson, He is not only a human rights lawyer but the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism. He is currently looking at the use of drones to kill terrorists and more often innocent citizens in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan.. His work is not exactly going to please the US and UK governments and campaigning MP, Tom Watson, is also backing him to the hilt over this issue as well.
Now he is going to devote his considerable legal expertise to tackling child sexual abuse and whether there have been cover ups in this country.
All this means – if there is another row over the setting up of this inquiry – we must not throw everything out.
Now is the time for careful thought and analysis not rushed judgements -Theresa May’s job is only half done.