Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf is the new lead of the independent inquiry into historical child abuse, it has been announced.
Home secretary Theresa May announced Woolf is to take up the high profile position, vacated by Lady Butler-Sloss in July. The announcement follows public and media controversy over Butler-Sloss’ appointment and subsequent resignation.
In a statement published today by the Home Office, Woolf said she was “honoured” to lead the inquiry into historical child abuse. “Ensuring lessons are learned from the mistakes that have been made in the past, and resulted in children being subjected to the most horrific crimes, is a vital and solemn undertaking. I was honoured to be approached to lead such an important inquiry, and look forward to working with the panel to ensure these mistakes are identified and never repeated,” she said.
The inquiry will examine whether alleged abuse by politicians and other powerful figures was concealed during the 1970s and 1990s.
It will also consider whether, and the extent to which, public bodies and other important institutions have taken seriously their duty to protect children from sexual abuse.
Home secretary Theresa May said: “In recent years, we have seen appalling cases of organised and persistent child sex abuse which have exposed serious failings by public bodies and important institutions.
“We are absolutely clear that we must learn the lessons of past failures and the panel will be instrumental in helping us to do this.”
Nushra Mansuri, a professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) raised concerns with Woolf’s lack of background in child protection.She also voiced concerns about the length of time finding a replacement for Butler-Sloss took: “It’s absolutely essential that everybody has confidence in the process, there needs to be a lot more transparency and I think that’s lacking. I think that it has not been helpful that things just went silent over the summer on this when we think about the magnitude of the issues. It hasn’t felt like a dynamic process given the demand in July by the group of MPs and all the other people who have been campaigning to get the inquiry underway.”
Woolf will be assisted by Graham Wilmer, a child sexual abuse victim and founder of the Lantern Project, Barbara Hearn who is a former deputy CEO of the National Children’s Bureau and Ben Emmerson who will serve as counsel to the inquiry.
Professor Alexis Jay, who wrote the recent report revealing the extent of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, has agreed to act as an expert adviser to the panel.
Chief exeuctive of The Children’s Society, Matthew Reed, said this announcement was an important step forward. “In the light of Rotherham, the inquiry is more urgent than ever and its start must not be delayed further.”
“This is a critical opportunity to eliminate the obstacles that have denied these children justice in the past and to stop this horrific crime from happening again. To make this a reality, changes must be made to make sure all services on the frontline detect and disrupt abuse early,” Reed said.