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03.11.14

May to consult with victims before appointing new child abuse inquiry chair

The home secretary is to consult victims before appointing a new chair of the troubled child abuse inquiry after Fiona Woolf, the second person appointed to the post, resigned amid speculation about her links to Lord Leon Brittan.

Theresa May is to make a statement today to MPs in which she will promise to personally consult victims’ groups on the new appointment. She will also have a pre-appointment hearing with the home affairs select committee.

Woolf resigned on Friday, saying victims did not have confidence in her, after it emerged that she’d had more contact with Lord Brittan than she had admitted to in her letter to the home secretary disclosing her interests.

Lord Brittan is expected to be questioned by the inquiry over his handling of abuse claims in the 1980s and a dossier detailing them that has subsequently gone missing.

Commons Leader William Hague has said the inquiry will continue its work while a new chairman is sought.

Fiona Woolf Anthony Devlin PA

Announcing her decision to stand down, Woolf said: "I was determined that the inquiry got to the bottom of the issues and if I don't command their confidence to run the panel fairly and impartially then I need to get out of the way.

"It has been brewing for some time. Ever since the issue first arose I have been worrying about the negative perceptions and there has been a lot of negative comment and innuendo and that has got in the way as well."

Woolf had faced many calls to stand down from politicians, the home affairs select committee and victims groups. Alison Millar, head of the abuse team at law firm Leigh Day, which represents victims, told the Guardian her clients were pleased that Woolf had stepped down.

“Now the work begins for a proper inquiry which listens to the survivors and supports them in giving their evidence to an experienced panel,” she said.

“The terms of reference must be based on the needs of survivors and must cover the scale of abuse which is slowly coming to light across the UK.”

The calls for her to resign intensified when it emerged that she had Home Office help to rewrite the letter that disclosed her conflicting interests seven times, in an attempt to play down her links to Lord Brittan.  

Her predecessor, Baroness Butler-Sloss, stepped down four months ago, a week after being appointed, when concerns were raised about her late brother being attorney general during the 1980s.

Timeline 

1 July MP Simon Danczuk calls on former home secretary Leon Brittan to say what he knew about paedophile allegations passed to him in the 1980s

7 July The home secretary, Theresa May announces an inquiry into allegations of an institutional cover-up of child sexual abuse, chaired by Lady Butler-Sloss.

9 July Campaigners call for Butler-Sloss to stand down because her brother was attorney general in the 1980s, when abuse allegedly occurred. She refuses.

12 July Home Office backs Butler-Sloss “unreservedly” to head the inquiry.

14 July Butler-Sloss yields to mounting pressure and stands down.

5 September May unveils Fiona Woolf, lord mayor of London, as the new chair of the inquiry.

11 October Woolf discloses she lived on the same street as Lord Brittan and had dined with him five times at various functions.

22 October A victim of abuse tries to challenge choice of Woolf via courts. David Cameron announces he has “full confidence” in Woolf to chair the inquiry.

31 October It emerges that Woolf rewrote her letter to Theresa May seven times. Victims’ groups tell officials they are “unanimous” Woolf should quit. She resigns.

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