Why Fiona Woolf is Not Appropriate to Chair the Inquiry into Child Abuse


Over the last few months my constituents and I have been left reeling by the socking details of prolonged and violent sexual abuse of children in our community. Although I have worked on issues around sexual abuse since my election in November 2012, the depravity revealed by Alexis Jay in her report have shaken me and many others to the core. Working on child sexual exploitation gives you a shocking insight into a complex, harrowing underworld of power, corruption, manipulation and neglect. The scale of abuse is terrifying and the level of trauma inflicted on the victims is unimaginable. What has shocked me the most, however, is the consistency with which victims are discarded and overlooked: not only by the abusers, but by the authorities that should be fighting for them. Thus, the abuse is perpetuated by the very people who should be stopping it in its tracks. This happened in Rotherham, just as it happened in Rochdale, in Oxfordshire, in the BBC, in Welsh care homes and some religious institutions. Even more horrifyingly, the abusers were sometimes those same people in authority.

It is right that the Government, after much debate and lobbying by victims and the opposition, agreed to a far reaching inquiry into how institutions have let victims down and allowed the abuse to flourish. It was also right that the original Chair, Dame Butler-Sloss, stepped down in recognition of public concern over a potential family conflict of interest. From experience, and through talking to many, many victims, it is clear that the new Chair needed to have a background in child abuse, or at least children's services. Equally importantly, they must be demonstrably independent from the establishment and anyone material to the inquiry, so that the victims believe the appointment to be credible.

Whilst I'm sure that Fiona Woolf is a lovely woman and a superb lawyer, she has no credibility to be the Chair of this inquiry. In any other situation she may cut muster, but the fact that she was appointed to this particular inquiry shows the Government's naivety around the complexities of this field. There is a complete lack of awareness of the understandable cynicism of victims, who have been let down time and again.

For me the issue is very straight forward: the victims' views must be at the centre of any inquiry, and the victims are very clear that they do not want Fiona Woolf. The Government needs to do the right thing and make a new appointment, or this hugely important inquiry will always be seen as an establishment cover-up. For the victims' sake, we cannot afford for that to be the case.

NewsVanessa Johns