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.
Reblogged this on sdbast.
A well argued call for rationality, Mr Hencke. But will anyone listen?
I would greatly appreciate your no-punches-pulled view of the setting up of ‘rival’ inquiries/tribunals.
There is a very real danger, in my opinion, of vulnerable people being exploited (here I am thinking of previous Exaro pieces about witnesses having words put into their mouths & ‘nonsense’ claims being made by those now directly touting for others to contact them, and bearing in mind also the recent Elm piece relating to the number of witnesses there – very low – & the potential damage that could be done therefore by having a victim/survivor “pass through the hands” of some of the “campaigners”).
I just cannot see how the appointment of Fiona Woolf is going to work.
Completely share everyone’s desperation not to let the inquiry be further delayed -or even worse derailed – but is it even legal to appoint a Chair with clear links to a person likely to be a key witness in the inquiry?
At the moment Woolf is known to be a neighbour of Brittan’s who has certainly come into contact with Brittan and his wife in what seem to be social as well as work circumstances.
If this is shown to be the case – if there is actually a friendly relationship between Woolf and the Brittans – surely this makes her position untenable according to the Inquiries Act 2005?
Furthermore, surely the Brittan connection will undermine victim and whistleblower – not to mention public – confidence in the inquiry?
Finally, rather than lacking a background in child care or child sex abuse she actually HAS a background in a very conflicting area – that of the City and high finance, making her exactly the figure of the establishment that all the campaigners have been insisting would be the worst possible choice.
How can we ignore all of these factors put together and allow her to remain Chair?
you do raise important points. Bizarrely your reference to a conflict of interest inder the Inquiries Act would apply if it was a statutory inquiry- a judicial inquiry – but not as it is at the moment a non statutory inquiry. If it was ever upgraded it would.
Theresa May has already indicated that “if the inquiry chairman were to request it” that she “is prepared to” convert the existing inquiry into a statutory inquiry.
But that would be a huge shambles if members (particularly the chairman) of the existing panel would not be eligible to sit on the panel of a statutory inquiry.
Therefore, the only sensible approach to picking the panel is to pick it according to the rules for a statutory inquiry so that the conversion can proceed smoothly if needed.
And I think that a statutory inquiry will be needed. There is enough evidence that there has been an establishment cover-up of sexual abuses by politicians and others to justify a thorough investigation. But a non-statutory inquiry will have no powers to compel testimony, no powers to take testimony under oath and no powers to require the production of relevant documents. With such limited powers the inquiry is hardly likely to be able to obtain the decisive evidence one way or the other. If there is a conspiracy, those establishment figures in involved are hardly voluntarily going to testify to it, nor produce documents which prove its existence. Therefore, unless the inquiry is converted to a statutory inquiry, there will be voices quite reasonably saying that the inquiry was designed to fail in this respect.
As for Woolf’s involvement, it is not an adequate safeguard that other members of the panel do not have establishment connections. A couple of years ago I attended the trial of two former teachers at my son’s old school. They were charged with sexual abuse of a pupil there. During jury selection, the potential jurors were asked if they had any connection with the school, and the names of the defendants and witnesses were listed and the jurors were asked if they knew any of them. One man indicated that he was a former pupil of the school. He was discharged from the jury.
Should we be able to expect the same degree of impartiality from the CSA inquiry panel as from a jury? if so, then that rules out Woolf.
I found this story about Caldicott Prep school headmaster Roland Peter Wright, who got away with child abuse for decades despite many people being aware of the allegations about him. It’s very relevant to the questions about Fiona Woolf’s appointment.
According to this article in the Mail,
one of the reasons Wright was able to continue abusing for a further 10 years was that his first trial was presided over by Judge Roger Connor, who blocked Wright’s prosecution on several grounds, including that it would not be fair because Wright’s alleged crimes were historical.
Victims after the trial claimed Judge Connor knew socially the then chairman of the board of governors at Caldicott: fellow judge, Lord Justice Scott Baker.
The two judges, both retired, lived just down the road from each other in Buckinghamshire. Both were members and past presidents of neighbouring Beaconsfield and Denham golf clubs, which played each other in ‘derby’ contests.
Wright was finally convicted last year at Amersham Crown Court of a string of historic sex offences. It emerged at his trial that he had been at the centre of a paedophile ring at Caldicott for more than two decades.
I find it difficult not to draw parallels between the two cases.
Victims of Wright claimed that Judge Connor should have declared an interest as neighbour and colleague of Wright’s school governor.
Victims of Westminster and establishment child sex abuse and cover ups are saying exactly the same about Lord Mayor Woolf, neighbour and colleague of Leon Brittan.
Wright had 10 more years to rape boys and escape justice. If his first trial had been presided over by a judge without links to his abuser, it is entirely possible he would have been prosecuted first time round.
Can we afford to take the risk of the same happening under Woolf’s chairmanship of the inquiry? Can we be sure that her links and connections to Leon Brittan – and, potentially, other members of the establishment who may need to be questioned by the inquiry – will not prevent justice from being done?
You KNOW you’re onto something when this kind of stuff is going on, I wouldn’t trust TM as far as I could throw her, she’s an ass kisser of the highest order. This is a massive cover up and I believe it’s becoming obvious who the most likely suspects are in the cabinet back in the day. Keep up the good work mate.