Pressure shifts as abuse panel chair goes

Fiona Woolf and, below, Peter Saunders, Chairman of The National Association for People Abused in Childhood
Fiona Woolf and, below, Peter Saunders, Chairman of The National Association for People Abused in Childhood
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THE Home Secretary’s judgement came under fire as the second woman to chair the child sexual abuse inquiry resigned.

Fiona Woolf stepped down at 5pm on Friday after days of mounting pressure, with the Home Sectary now expected to face urgent questions in parliament this Monday.

The woman asked to lead the inquiry into historic sexual abuse lost the confidence of victims groups after it emerged she had sought Home Office approval of her letter setting out her links to key abuse inquiry figures.

A meeting of abuse groups yesterday afternoon ended with a call for the chairwoman to resign, but, it emerged, Ms Woolf has already privately decided to go.

She said: “As soon as I heard the meeting with victims had been organised I knew that the outcome of that would be the tipping point so I made my mind up a few days back.”

Ms Woolf added: “I’m obviously sad people are not confident in my ability to chair a hugely important inquiry, but it would not be possible to chair it without full support

“The perception I was biased was growing. The challenge was whether I should just be brave, as it was always going to be tough, or were the voices calling for me to go sufficiently large to warrant my resignation.”

Her resignation came after a day of building pressure for the chairwoman to go,led by former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who said he had changed his mind after seeing the different drafts of Ms Woolf’s background letter.

Ms Woolf had published a letter going over her establishment background as she tried to settle concerns about her links to Leon Brittan, a former Home Secretary who may be investigated amid claims he mishandled abuse evidence.

But when the Home Affairs Select Committee this week revealed Ms Woolf had submitted seven different drafts for Home Office approval, pressure increased.

Ms Woolf said: “The drafting and redrafting is what lawyers do a lot of. It shows I have been incredibly transparent.”

Asked who should take over, Ms Woolf said: “It will be quite hard to find someone with no connections. Who could do it? A hermit? It needs leadership, which I can’t command as the victims don’t have the confidence in me to do this.”

Home Secretary Theresa May said she had accepted Mrs Woolf’s resignation “with regret”.

“I decided to set up this inquiry because it’s imperative that we establish the extent to which institutions in this country have taken seriously their duty of care towards children. Recent reports from Rotherham and Greater Manchester demonstrate the importance of this work,” she said.

“As with Hillsborough, the best way to do this is through an independent panel inquiry. I believe we have a panel which brings a wide range of experience and expertise and one that survivors can have confidence in.”