31 October 2014
Last updated at 02:35
Fiona Woolf is the current Lord Mayor of London
Victims’ groups are expected to tell child abuse inquiry officials Fiona Woolf should step down as its head.
One victims’ representative told the BBC he had “zero confidence” in the inquiry, which he said – in its current form – would be a “whitewash”.
The first person appointed to lead the child abuse inquiry – Baroness Butler-Sloss – stepped down in July.
The Home Office said Mrs Woolf had shown a commitment to openness, and that it remained confident in her.
A meeting between victims’ groups and inquiry officials will take place on Friday,
The largest group attending the meeting, the NSPCC, has declined to give explicit backing to Mrs Woolf.
It said the inquiry should be judged on its work rather than who leads it, but that it should get under way.
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.
Mrs Woolf, the Lord Mayor of London, has also faced questions about her links with Lord Brittan, who was home secretary in the 1980s.
Home Affairs Committee chairman Keith Vaz has said correspondence sent by Mrs Woolf raises more questions, after it emerged that a letter from her to Home Secretary Theresa May was re-written seven times.
Mr Vaz said the later versions gave “a sense of greater detachment” between Mrs Woolf and Lord Brittan, who was home secretary in 1984 when ministers were handed a dossier on alleged high-profile paedophiles.
Fiona Woolf, left, and Lady Brittan, right, speaking to ex-BBC newsreader Martyn Lewis last October
Mrs Woolf has already appeared before the Home Affairs Committee once, telling it she lived in the same London street as Lord Brittan.
She told the committee 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 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.”
She also sent the committee seven drafts of her letter to Mrs May, after she was appointed to head the inquiry.
But Mr Vaz said drafts of the letter showed that “words, and sometimes even facts, have been amended”.
He also said it was extraordinary that Mrs Woolf had not written the first draft of the letter and added: “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.
Lord Brittan has said he handed the dossier on abuse allegations to the relevant officials for examination
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.
Mrs May said Mrs Woolf had “a long and distinguished career throughout which she has demonstrated the highest standards of integrity”.
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.”
Baroness Butler-Sloss stepped down before the inquiry began, saying she “did not sufficiently consider whether my background would cause difficulties”.
Her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was attorney general in the 1980s.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper said Mrs May had “totally failed” to get the inquiry going months after it was announced.
“This child abuse inquiry is really important but it will completely fail if no one has confidence in it – and particularly if victims do not trust it.
“It won’t work if there is a perception that information has been covered up. Nor will it work if there are continual unanswered questions.
“Theresa May urgently needs to show her appointed chair and expert panel have the independence, impartiality and credibility with victims to take forward this incredibly important work.”