Having taken quite a bit of stick over the last week after asking everyone to give Fiona Woolf a chance as chair of the abuse inquiry, it’s nice to finally see others agreeing publicly.
It was never that I thought Fiona Woolf was an ideal candidate but that I recognised just what was at stake, which might have been the existence of the inquiry itself.
Frankly, there will be big battles ahead and wasting credibility and energy fighting over who chairs the inquiry isn’t going to help fight them. Everyone should be prepared to become very vocal if, as I suspect, the terms of reference are drawn too narrowly. This was the problem with Waterhouse and it simply can’t be allowed to happen this time.
I hope others now have the guts to come out and say it because the test of a person’s character isn’t playing to the crowd and the transient popularity that comes with appeasing it, it is saying the unpopular things that need saying.
The Home Secretary appointed Fiona Woolf to chair the child abuse inquiry on Friday. Since then, a number of people have asked for my views on the matter, some of them quite high profile survivors.
I’d never heard of Fiona Woolf until I saw the announcement but I know her type – successful, rich and married to a big Tory.
A number of survivors are concerned she’s too close to the establishment and seems to have some kind of social or informal links to Leon Brittan, the former Home Secretary who was recently interviewed under caution by the police.
Believe me, I understand the concerns of survivors but I’m supporting the appointment all the same.
The way I look at the situation is this:
A year ago, there was no chance of an inquiry.
Theresa May has done the right thing despite considerable internal pressure not to act. She has also listened to concerns of many survivors and MPs by assembling a panel of people who do not share the background of Fiona Woolf.
I’m desperate to see the inquiry get moving because I’m now convinced that members of organised criminal networks have evaded justice – and that some very powerful people need to be exposed.
As soon as the inquiry starts to take a look at documents as well as testimonies of survivors and former police officers,I believe the weight of evidence will be so great that even more will have to be done.
This might take the form of a bigger police inquiry team, made up of investigators from around the country but managed nationally. Then we really might see some powerful people brought to justice.
To oppose Fiona Woolf will have the effect of further delaying the evidence gathering, leaving survivors in limbo for longer and perpetrators evading scrutiny.
From what I’ve seen so far, we risk losing more with a delay than we do with a chair who has not yet won the confidence of a number of survivors. It’s for her to build trust with them through her leadership of the inquiry team.
I know enough about the panel members and their expert advisers to be certain that they will not tolerate an establishment whitewash. If more revelations come out about Fiona Woolf then I’m sure they will make their opinions known to Theresa May.
They should be allowed to examine the institutional failings of the past in order to understand how vulnerable children were abused by powerful people who were not held to account.
So, I’m giving Theresa May the benefit of the doubt.
It’s time for this inquiry to get moving. The team leading it should be judged on the tenacity of their research and the strength of their investigations.
I hope you can give them your support in what will be a very distressing inquiry.