Westminster abuse inquiry: Calls for ‘establishment figure’ Baroness Butler-Sloss to stand down as chair of paedophile probe
MPs and victims say member of House of Lords with brother who was Attorney General is wrong person to lead independent inquiry
MPs and lawyers are leading calls for the former judge chosen to lead the inquiry into an alleged Westminster child abuse cover-up to stand down over her connections to the establishment of the time.
Baroness Butler-Sloss was appointed yesterday by Theresa May to chair an investigative panel looking into how institutions like the Government, the NHS, the church and the BBC handled allegations of paedophilia within their ranks.
But the Home Office has been forced to defend its choice after some politicians said the peer was tainted by the fact that her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was Attorney General at the time of the alleged abuses in the 1980s.
Sir Michael, father of the actor Nigel Havers, faced criticism at the time after he reportedly tried to stop Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens from using parliamentary privilege to name diplomat Sir Peter Hayman as a paedophile.
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MPs have also raised concerns about Lady Butler-Sloss’s age – she will be 81 in August – and the fact that she is herself a member of the political establishment. She joined the House of Lords following her retirement as a High Court judge.
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP who has played a leading role in bringing about the inquiry announced by the Home Secretary at the start of this week, said Lady Butler-Sloss was the wrong person for the job and that she should “consider her position”.
He told the BBC: “She’s part of the establishment and that raises concerns and the relationship in terms of her brother, I think, is too close for comfort. I think that’s the conclusion most people will reach.”
Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale, and Lord Brittan, the former Home Secretary Mr Danczuk drew particular attention to the link to the late Mr Dickens, whose so-called “dossier” of allegations about paedophile politicians was passed to the then-Home Secretary Leon Brittan and the DPP but has since disappeared.
He said: “I find it quite surprising that neither she nor the government realised that her relationship with her brother was connected with Geoffrey Dickens and all this palaver around it. It beggars belief that that hadn’t been considered in the first place.
“But she also sits in the House of Lords. Some of the people who may be accused of this type of abuse may sit in the House of Lords alongside her. That doesn't look good to the wider public.”
Keith Vaz, the chair of the Commons home affairs committee, said he was ““surprised that the Government has chosen a Member of the House of Lords no matter how distinguished to head the inquiry”.
Keith Vaz He said: “She is a member of Parliament and is very closely related to a former Lord Chancellor.”
The Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Commons health committee, tweeted: “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.”
And Alison Millar, head of the abuse team at the law firm Leigh Day which is representing alleged victims of abuse related to the inquiry, said there can be “no shadows of doubt cast by links to allegations of an establishment cover-up”.
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— Sarah Wollaston MP (@drwollastonmp) July 9, 2014
“Whilst Lady Butler-Sloss is a person of enormous integrity the concern really is that she is just too close to the establishment and in particular concern over her her family connection to Sir Michael Havers,” she said.
“Justice must be seen to be done by those who are understandably the most reticent to come forward, those who have survived abuse.
“The panel needs to be reconsidered and must involve those working in the area of child abuse as well as survivors of abuse now working in that area.”
Lady Butler-Sloss, a former president of the Family Division of the High Court and chair of the Cleveland Child Abuse Inquiry, told the BBC she “knew absolutely nothing” about her brother’s role in the 1980s paedophile controversy.
She said: “If people think I am not suitable then that's up to them.”
The Home Office also stood by the appointment, reportedly describing the former judge as “a person of impeccable credentials”.
Downing Street said Ms May and Lady Butler-Sloss would be announcing the wider probe's terms of reference and panel members “within days rather than weeks”.
On the calls for the peer to stand down, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: “It is the very wide respect that her professional expertise as well as her personal integrity commands that makes her a very strong appointment for this role. It is the width and breadth of her experience that counts.”
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