It is striking, indeed disturbing, how long some resignations from high public office take, and Fiona Woolf’s yesterday followed an all-too‑familiar pattern that invariably leaves everyone involved even more tarnished than they might otherwise have been.
It was obvious that Ms Woolf’s position as chair of the government inquiry into the historic sexual abuse of children was untenable from the moment her friendship with the former Home Secretary Lord Brittan became known many weeks ago. The dossier detailing alleged instances of child sex abuse that went missing on Lord Brittan’s watch so compromised his position as a potential witness to the inquiry that it would have been impossible for Ms Woolf to cross-examine him in anything like a spirit of impartiality.
This is no ordinary public inquiry. It calls on the victims of child sex abuse to relive, in public, experiences which in many cases have left them traumatised for life. Victims’ lack of confidence in Ms Woolf soon became obvious, yet she clung on. Now at last she has done the right thing, leaving the inquiry looking for its third chair after the earlier resignation of Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, undone by her own connections. It is a mess, and a wholly avoidable one.
Much has been made in recent days about the workings of the establishment – of how the same narrow cadre of distinguished figures share the top jobs, with inevitable consequences for the independence and integrity of inquiries such as this one. That is certainly a lesson to be drawn from the Butler-Sloss/Woolf fiasco, but at the same time, should it really be so hard to find a chair who fulfils all the necessary criteria?
We await the latest successor to the job – and trust that finally the appointment will be made with the necessary care and rigour.Reuse content