Butler-Sloss: I won't quit as head of abuse inquiry
- 9 July 2014
- From the section UK Politics
The retired judge appointed to chair a child abuse review has insisted she will not quit - as the PM claimed she was the right person for the job.
Elizabeth Butler-Sloss was chosen by the home secretary to head the inquiry into allegations of historical abuse.
But Labour's Simon Danczuk said her position was tainted because her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was Attorney General in the 1980s.
Downing Street said the peer "commands widespread respect and confidence".
Baroness Butler-Sloss was announced on Tuesday as head of a wide-ranging probe into how allegations of abuse by politicians and other powerful figures in public institutions such as the NHS, the church and the BBC in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s were handled.
MPs and victims claim she is too close to the establishment, particularly as Sir Michael was Attorney General at the time of the alleged paedophile scandal.
But Alison Millar, the lawyer who represents alleged victims of child abuse, said she doubted her clients would think Lady Butler-Sloss was the right person for the job, especially given the connection with her brother.
Sir Michael faced criticism after he sought to stop Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens from naming in Parliament a top diplomat - Sir Peter Hayman - as a paedophile in the early 1980s.
But Lady Butler-Sloss said she was unaware of her brother having any role, as attorney general, in the paedophile controversy in the 1980s.
"I know absolutely nothing about it," she told the BBC. "If people think I am not suitable then that's up to them."
Asked if she would consider her position or make further comment if calls continued for her to stand down, she added: "I am certainly not going to be talking to the BBC or anyone else about this any further."
Her nephew, the actor Nigel Havers, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One, that he knew his aunt well and he was sure that if she felt there was any chance of bias, she would not have taken on the job.
The former Chariots of Fire and Coronation Street actor, added that she had "had no political ties" to his father and knew nothing about the alleged events in the 1980s in Parliament.
A Number 10 spokesman rebuffed suggestions the peer would be unable to investigate all areas of the abuse inquiry because of her brother's involvement in the controversy as Attorney General in the early 1980s.
The spokesman declined to say whether the PM was aware of her brother's position prior to her appointment, adding: "His view is she commands widespread respect and confidence."
The suitability of Lady Butler-Sloss did not come up at Prime Minister's Questions, although the remit of her planned inquiry did.
In response to a question from Labour leader Ed Miliband at Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron said it "may well be time" to back calls by the NSPCC's Peter Wanless - in charge of a separate review into how the Home Office responded to child sex abuse allegations in the 1980s - to make covering up abuse a criminal offence.
Earlier Mr Danczuk, who has investigated child sex abuse allegations against former Liberal MP Cyril Smith, said the revelations of a family connection with Sir Michael meant Lady Butler-Sloss' position was compromised.
"I think the government should think again in terms of who they have appointed for this position," he said.
"I think she should consider her position. I find it quite surprising that neither she nor the government realised her relationship with her brother was connected to Geoffrey Dickens.
"It beggars belief that that wasn't considered in the first place."
Key questions answered
Why has this come up now?
Labour MP Simon Danczuk last week called on Leon Brittan to say what the then home secretary did with documents he was passed in the 1980s containing allegations about powerful figures and paedophilia.
What happened to the files?
Lord Brittan passed them to Home Office officials. A 2013 review found 114 documents were unaccounted for. The review found the minister had acted appropriately.
What did the papers allege?
The allegations, compiled by Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens, were set to "blow the lids off" the lives of powerful child abusers, the MP's son has said. The late Mr Dickens said he planned to expose eight such figures.
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, chairman of the Commons health select committee, has also cast doubt on whether Lady Butler-Sloss can continue. She wrote on Twitter: "Not doubting her integrity but hard to see why Baroness Butler-Sloss would want to accept a role so many regard as conflicted at the outset."
Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee said he was surprised at the selection, pointing out that while Lady Butler-Sloss was "distinguished" she was also a member of the House of Lords.
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said the peer was "categorically not the right person to lead child abuse inquiry," because of the involvement of her brother, adding: "No one should be expected to investigate a close member of their own family as part of an official enquiry. "
And Ms Millar, head of the abuse law team at Leigh Day Solicitors, urged the peer to step down.
"There needs to be not a shred of doubt that this inquiry is not an establishment cover up - and the concern really is that she is just too close to the establishment, particularly with this connection to Sir Michael Havers," she told the BBC.
Ms Millar represents some of the alleged victims of the Elm Guest House in London - the location where a number of sex abuse cases were alleged to have taken place.
But former Tory children's minister Tim Loughton stressed the inquiry was "not a one woman show" and Lady Butler-Sloss would have a panel of independently-minded people working with her.
"Frankly, I despair," he told the BBC. "We're getting to the stage where even if the Queen were asked to chair this inquiry, there would be those saying there's a conflict of interest. If I'd been the home secretary, I would've appointed Elizabeth Butler-Sloss as well.
"We need somebody who has huge integrity, who has respect, who has great independence and has the expertise and knowledge to focus this inquiry... there are few people able to do it and Elizabeth Butler-Sloss is the obvious choice."
Labour MP John Mann said "multiple copies" of Geoffrey Dickens' abuse dossier, which he passed to then Home Secretary Leon Brittan in the 1980s, had been circulated.
He claimed the only reason why people were not coming forward to say anything about them was because they were bound by the Official Secrets' Act.
"They need the gagging clause removed... they fear being prosecuted," he told the BBC.
Lady Butler-Sloss was coroner for the inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Al Fayed until she stepped down in 2007.
She is also a former president of the Family Division of the High Court and was chair of the Cleveland Child Abuse Inquiry,
Despite her experience, BBC News Channel chief political correspondent Norman Smith said MPs had also raised question marks over her age - she will be 81 next month.
A Home Office spokesman, however, defended the appointment of Lady Butler-Sloss despite her family link to the controversy.
"Baroness Butler-Sloss has had a long and distinguished career at the highest levels of this country's legal system," he said. "Her work leading the Cleveland child abuse inquiry and as president of the High Court Family Division make her the perfect person to lead this important piece of work.
"As the Permanent Secretary told the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday, the integrity of Baroness Butler-Sloss is beyond reproach and we stand by her appointment unreservedly."
A source added: "She is a person of impeccable credentials and experience. Her record stands for itself regardless of her brother."