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Westminster child sex abuse inquiry chief facing fresh calls to step down

Fiona Woolf is facing fresh pressure to quit as the head of the Government's inquiry into historical child abuse Credit: PA

Fiona Woolf is facing fresh pressure to quit as the head of the Government's inquiry into historical child sex abuse at Westminster following the publication of seven drafts of a letter she wrote to the Home Secretary detailing her connection to former Cabinet minister Lord Brittan and his wife.

Ms Woolf wrote the letter after coming under scrutiny for her links to Lord Brittan, who denies failing to act on a dossier of paedophilia allegations he received while in office in the 1980s and is likely to be called to give evidence to the inquiry about his handling of child abuse allegations.

Ms Woolf's letter was edited several times, with each version "playing down" her links with the couple, Keith Vaz MP, the chairman of the Commons home affairs select committee, has said.

Lord Brittan and his wife live on the same street as Fiona Woolf Credit: PA

The final version of the letter sent by Ms Woolf to Theresa May "gave a sense of greater detachment" between her and the Brittans than the earlier documents, Mr Vaz said.

In an early draft Ms Woolf said: "I first met with Lord Brittan in a personal capacity when I was invited by Lady Brittan to a dinner party hosted at their residence in 2008. From recollection there were approximately eight people at this dinner.

A later, undated draft, said "from my recollection there were no other guests who attended" the dinners at the Brittans' house.

The drafts of the letter from Ms Woolf to the Home Secretary were published in a response to Mr Vaz after he requested more information about her contact with the Brittans.

Keith Vaz requested drafts of Fiona Woolf's letter be published Credit: PA

Labour MP Mr Vaz said that during the exchanges between Ms Woolf and the Home Office "words, and sometimes even facts, have been amended".

Ms Woolf last week admitted that she had sent a draft of the letter to the Home Office and the new disclosure of the edits to it has led to questions about the role of inquiry officials in helping to produce the final draft.

Mr Vaz said that his committee would decide in a meeting next week whether Ms Woolf should be recalled to give further evidence to them.

It is extraordinary that Mrs Woolf did not even write the first draft of her letter which was supposed to detail her own personal experiences.

The letter then underwent seven drafts with a multiplicity of editors.

The final version gave a sense of greater detachment between Lord and Lady Brittan and Mrs Woolf than her previous attempts.

– Keith Vaz

Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who has campaigned on the issue of child sexual abuse, accused the Home Office of "colluding in covering up" Mrs Woolf's links with the Brittans.

He told LBC Radio: "It seems very bizarre. The reality is that the Home Office are colluding in covering up Fiona Woolf's closeness to Leon Brittan because if you look at the first draft through to the seventh draft ... you can quite clearly see that there are changes in terms of tone, language, some of the facts are even changed to give the impression that Fiona Woolf is not as close to Leon Brittan as you might have thought when you read the first letter."

Through her connection with the Brittans, Fiona Woolf has:

  • Lived in the same street as the couple since 2004
  • Invited the couple to dinner three times
  • Dined at their house twice
  • Met Lady Brittan for coffee
  • Sat on a prize-giving panel with Lady Brittan
  • Sponsored Lady Brittan £50 for a fun run

Solicitor Alison Millar, from the law firm Leigh Day which is representing abuse victims, said: "The full extent of her relationship with Lord and Lady Brittan, which is still not entirely clear, only slowly unravels through these draft letters sent between Mrs Woolf and the Home Office.

"This response by Mrs Woolf will only cement in the minds of my clients that she is not the right person to head this inquiry."

Ms Woolf insisted that the work done by her panel would be "thorough, will pull no punches and show no favours" and the Home Office said it remained confident in Ms Woolf and her panel.

A Home Office spokesman said: "Fiona Woolf wrote to the Home Secretary to disclose anything she thought might cast doubt on her impartiality as chairman of the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse.

"Her letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee further demonstrates her commitment to openness and transparency in the course of her duties ... We remain confident Fiona Woolf and the Panel members can carry out their duties to the highest standards of impartiality and integrity."

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