UK Politics

Re-drafted letter brings new questions for abuse inquiry chief

Fiona Woolf, Martin Lewis and Lady Brittan Image copyright PA
Image caption Fiona Woolf, left, and Lady Brittan, right, speak to ex-BBC newsreader Martyn Lewis last October

Letters from the new head of the child abuse inquiry show her appointment was "chaotic" and raise more questions, a senior MP has said.

A letter from Fiona Woolf to Theresa May was re-written seven times.

Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz said they gave "a sense of greater detachment" between Mrs Woolf and former Home Secretary Leon Brittan.

Lord Brittan was home secretary in 1984 when ministers were handed a dossier on alleged high-profile paedophiles.

'Not close'

The inquiry, announced in July, will look at whether public bodies and other institutions did enough to protect children from sexual abuse, from 1970 to the present day.

One chairman has already stepped down amid questions about her impartiality, while Mrs Woolf has also faced questions about her links with Lord Brittan, who has faced questions about how he handled the dossier of allegations when he was home secretary in the 1980s.

Mrs Woolf has already appeared before the committee once, telling them she lived in the same London street as Lord Brittan.

She told them she had invited him and his wife to dinner on three occasions, and had two dinners at their house between 2008 and 2012 - but said he was not a "close associate".

But she was asked for more details after a photograph emerged on the the official website for the Lord Mayor's Dragon Awards, showing her talking with Lady Brittan and the veteran journalist Martyn Lewis, all of whom were judges on the awards panel in October 2013.

Mrs Woolf had said that the last contact she had with Lady Brittan was in April 2013.

In her letter, published on the Commons Home Affairs Committee website, Mrs Woolf said she had mentioned that Lady Brittan was a judge at the Dragon Awards, adding: "The photograph captures one moment of an entire evening and I do not recall any substantial interaction with Lady Brittan, among the scores of other guests."

'Chaotic' process

She also sent the committee seven drafts of her letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, after she was appointed to head the inquiry.

But Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz said the letter "raises more questions than it answers about an appointment process that has been chaotic".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Brittan has said he handed the dossier on abuse allegations to the relevant officials for examination

He said the drafts of the letter showed that "words, and sometimes even facts, have been amended."

Mr Vaz said it was extraordinary that Mrs Woolf had not written the first draft of the letter and said: "The final version gave a sense of greater detachment between Lord and Lady Brittan and Mrs Woolf than her previous attempts."

He said the committee would consider whether they would ask Mrs Woolf back to answer more questions, at their next meeting.

A victim of historical child sexual abuse has launched a legal challenge to Mrs Woolf's appointment, claiming she is not impartial, has no relevant expertise and may not have time to discharge her duties.

But Downing Street has said it has "full confidence" in Mrs Woolf being able to carry out the inquiry, and Home Secretary Theresa May said she had had "a long and distinguished career throughout which she has demonstrated the highest standards of integrity".

Mrs Woolf was appointed after the government's original choice, Baroness Butler-Sloss, stepped down after victims' families expressed concerns about her independence.

Her late brother Lord Havers was attorney general at the time allegations about high-profile paedophiles were passed to ministers by the late Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens.

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