Fiona Woolf has resigned as head of the inquiry into historic sexual abuse by members of the British establishment after it was shown she was close to Leon Brittan. The Home Office had helped Woolf draft a letter playing down their relationship but she is under pressure after various newspapers pointed out that the two live on the same street and have been to at least four dinner parties together.
Lord Brittan has been the centre of rumours for many years, although they do remain unproven. He was accused of suppressing evidence of child sex abuse by senior figures when he was Home Secretary, but he strongly denies the allegations. Earlier this week Labour MP Jim Hood used parliamentary privilege to claim Britton had “improper conduct with children”.
Woolf was only appointed head of inquiry when Baroness Butler-Sloss was forced to stand down after it emerged her brother Sir Michael Havers tried to stop an MP using parliamentary privilege to name a senior civil servant as a paedophile in the 1980s. Butler-Sloss claimed she was unaware of her brother’s activities but stood down because any conclusions she drew about him would lack credibility.
After she left, Woolf was appointed because she is a solicitor and the Lord Mayor of London, although her term ends next month. She is said to deny she is part of the establishment, but her links to senior politicians have made it hard to continue with this claim.
As evidence of her links to both Lord and Lady Brittan emerged Woolf wrote to the Home Secretary Theresa May playing down her connections. However, the plan backfired when it emerged the letter had been redrafted seven times with the help of the Home Office.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee told the Daily Mail the letter “raises more questions than it answers” he also claimed facts had changed as new drafts were put together.
Mr Vaz said: “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.”
Early drafts of the letter included the phrases “I returned the compliment” and “we engaged in another exchange of dinner parties” but later these were deleted. The letter also included references to the fact they live on the same street but later drafts changed the wording to say she had a house on the same street.
Theresa May said she was “disappointed” at losing Woolf and would allow the Home Affairs Select Committee to hold a confirmation hearing for the new chairman. Campaigners had said they would not co-operate with the inquiry as long as Woolf remained.
WHAT IS THE LORD MAYOR OF LONDON?
Ever since the creation of the post of Mayor of London there has been a great deal of confusion over what the Lord Mayor of London is. Despite the similar sounding names the roles could not be more different.
Whilst Boris Johnson co-ordinates services like the transport network and policing, the Lord Mayor of London is a purely ceremonial position. It is elected from amongst the Aldermen who represent the 25 wards of the City of London.
The Corporation of London is bicameral, meaning it has a Court of Common Council (like the House of Commons) and a Court of Aldermen (like the House of Lords). Just as the Prime Minister comes from the House of Commons and the Queen is from the House of Lords, so the leader of the Corporation is from the Court of Common Council and the Lord Mayor is from the Court of Aldermen.
To run for Lord Mayor a candidate need to be awarded the Freedom of the City of London, then either live, work or own property in the square mile. This gives them the right to run as an Alderman, then after they have served as Sheriff they can apply to be Lord Mayor. The Liverymen of the traditional trade guilds pick an Alderman every year to be Lord Mayor.
Once they have been through all that they get to be Lord Mayor for one year, with no pay. Lord Mayors are also expected to pay for wine at dinners and their own regalia. It is accepted that holding the post will cost the holder around £250,000, although in recent years the Corporation have taken steps to cut this down.
On the positive side, the Lord Mayor does get to live in the Mansion House, ride in a state carriage as well being the centre of attention at the Lord Mayor’s Show. They also get the title, The Right Honourable The Lord Mayor of London Alderman Fiona Woolf, and traditionally former Lord Mayors are knighted.