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Fiona Woolf to chair child abuse inquiry

6th Sep 2014

Fiona Woolf CBE JP, current Lord Mayor of the City of London, has been announced as the new head of an inquiry into historical child sex abuse.

Woolf replaces Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who was appointed as chair in July but stepped down after only a few days amid concerns about potential conflicts of interest – at the time of the some of the events due to be investigated, her brother, Lord Havers, was attorney general.

The Home Office has stated that corporate lawyer Woolf will be assisted as head of the inquiry by expert advisers, including Professor Alexis Jay, who recently wrote a report on child sex abuse in Rotherham, Graham Wilmer MBE, who was himself a child sexual abuse victim and consequent founder of the Lantern Project, and Barbara Hearn OBE, former deputy chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau. Ben Emmerson QC will also serve as a counsel to the inquiry.

Membership of the panel has yet to be finalised, and terms of reference still need to be agreed.

The independent inquiry, commissioned by the government, will investigate allegations of historical sex abuse, and whether ‘public bodies and other important institutions’ took their duty of care seriously when it came to protecting children from abuse. It will also ‘seek to address public concern’ over past failings regarding ‘organised and persistent child sex abuse’ which have come to light with several allegations made recently.

Theresa May, Home Secretary, adds that the failings have ‘sent shockwaves through the country’, which is why the government has commissioned the inquiry, in order to learn lessons from these past failures.

Woolf has stated that she felt honoured to be asked to chair the inquiry. She hopes lessons are learned from past mistakes, and looks forward to working with the selected panel in ensuring this never happens again.

An interim report is scheduled to be provided by the inquiry to parliament before May 2015’s election, while a separate review into the Home Office’s handling of historical child sex abuse allegations, led by Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, is due soon.