Fiona Woolf, Leon Brittan and William Hague – conflicts of interestPosted: September 11, 2014
On Friday, September 5th, 2014, the Lord Mayor of London, Fiona Woolf, was appointed by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to be chair of the forthcoming inquiry into child abuse. Within a few hours of the announcement, Twitter was full of information concerning Woolf’s closeness to former home secretary Leon Brittan (now Lord Brittan), in particular the fact that the two worked closely together for the lobbying organisation TheCityUK, for which Woolf is the President of the Advisory Council, on which Brittan sits (here I wish to give credit to Daniel De Simone, who was I believe the first person to find this connection, which was subsequently tweeted by various people), and also the fact that she is one of just five patrons of the Association of Women Solicitors, another of whom is Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman.
Both of these individuals are extremely important in terms of potential areas of investigation for the inquiry: Brittan was a Home Office Minister of State from 1979 to 1981, during which time the Paedophile Information Exchange were running their operation from the Home Office and receiving funding from them (see also the article in the Mail by Guy Adams from July on this subject), and was Home Secretary from 1983 to 1985, during which time he received a series of dossiers from Tory MP relating to networks of high profile abusers and others. These have mysteriously gone missing (amid suspicions that they may have been destroyed) and an inquiry is underway run by Peter Wanless, chair of the NSPCC, as to what happened to them (see here for the statement by Theresa May on July 7th, and also here and here . As regards Harman, she was legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties during a period when they were affiliated to the Paedophile Information Exchange, had a PIE member as their gay rights officer, and even advertised in PIE’s journal Magpie (there are many more articles which have been published on this subject during the course of the year, easily found through Googling – especially important are those by Guy Adams and Martin Beckford; see also the index of my various pieces of documentary evidence on NCCL and PIE).
The Times detailed the connection between Woolf and Brittan on Saturday, September 6th (not available online, reproduced below), then on Sunday, September 7th, an article by Martin Beckford and Simon Murphy in the Mail on Sunday provided further information, including that Woolf judges an annual City award scheme alongside Lord Brittan’s wife Diana, that she gave a £50 donation to Brittan’s wife for a charity fun-run, and is a neighbour of Lord and Lady Brittan in the same street.
Following a smattering of other articles questioning all of this, an important piece was published in The Guardian on Tuesday September 9th by the Labour MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk, who has been at the forefront of the campaign for an inquiry and whose appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee on July 1st, 2014 was a major catalyst for greater public awareness of the Dickens dossiers handed to Brittan and wider claims of a cover-up, leading to widespread media coverage and the announcement of the inquiry (the further appearance at HASC on July 8th by Home Office Permanent Secretary Mark Sedwill made clear that there were many questions to be asked, and that a previous internal investigation had been far from satisfactory).
Danczuk’s article was sharply critical about the choice of May’s judgement; he clarified that he had spoken to the Home Secretary before the appointment was announced, but could now see that ‘even the most basic of checks would have revealed glaring problems with Woolf that were always going to cause difficulties and ensure victims had no confidence in the process’. Today (Thursday September 11th, 2014), Danczuk tweeted to make clear that he had asked the Leader of the House, William Hague, for a debate about links between Woolf and Brittan. The full Parliamentary question and Hague’s answer can be read here and viewed here at 10:55:28. Danczuk went further than previously in saying that Brittan is ‘alleged to be at the heart of the paedophile scandal and cover-up surrounding Westminster‘. However, Hague merely replied that Woolf ‘is a very distinguished person, well able to conduct this inquiry with the very highest standards of integrity’, etc, so it looks like no such debate is likely to be forthcoming. Woolf herself is currently away on a 10-day lobbying trip to Southern Africa, and has not responded to any of the issues raised about her connections.
This selection process has revealed much about how close-knit are many members of the British establishment, and how questionable it is that some individuals could not be seen to have major conflicts of interest (as with the previous appointment of Baroness Butler-Sloss, whose brother Michael Havers was alleged to have been involved in covering up other investigations in the 1980s).
But it is worth considering who is making the decision not to allow even a debate on this: William Hague. Hague was Brittan’s successor as MP for Richmond, Yorkshire, in 1989, following Brittan’s appointment as a European commissioner. An article from June 15th, 1997, in the Sunday Times (reproduced below) makes clear that Hague was himself appointed as a part-time speechwriter for Geoffrey Howe after having been recommended by Brittan (then working as Chief Secretary to the Treasury when Howe was Chancellor), who had spotted him at a visit to the Oxford Union. Recently released documents from the National Archives make clear that it was only because of Thatcher’s intervention that Hague did not get the job fulltime, as Howe and Brittan wanted. The 1989 article from The Times printed below makes clear, Hague lived in Brittan’s country home in the run up to the Richmond by-election. As a column by Nigel Dempster reproduced below makes clear, Hague also liked to go hill-walking with Brittan. Furthermore, former MP and leader of the Welsh Tories Rod Richard has claimed that the late MP Peter Morrison (PPS to Margaret Thatcher), who was known by several other colleagues to be a ‘pederast’, was involved in the abuse of children in North Wales, and as Welsh Secretary at the time the inquiry was called in 1996, Hague ‘should have seen the evidence’, though this was denied by Hague’s office. Former Tory Party Chairman Norman Tebbit (now Lord Tebbit) has admitted that he heard rumours about Morrison (who was his deputy for a period); Tebbit, to his credit, is one of the few senior Tories who has admitted there likely was a cover-up of high level abuse during the 1980s. A new edition of the diaries of former MP and Morrison’s successor in the constituency of Chester, Gyles Brandreth, Breaking the Cover, is due out on September 18th, and apparently promises more information on Morrison.
Is Hague an impartial judge on this? For there to be faith in the inquiry, there must be no glaring conflicts of interest. And any such conflicts of interest need to be able to be debated openly in Parliament.
[My further thanks to Daniel De Simone for locating and sending the Times and Sunday Times articles, and his amazing work in locating information in general]
The Times, January 10th, 1989
Peter Davenport, ‘Tory rising star aims for Brittan country’
Mr William Hague the one-time teenage hope of the Conservative Party and now the aspiring successor to Sir Leon Brittan as MP for the rural constituency of Richmond (Yorks), was, literally and politically, making himself at home at the weekend.
He is living at Sir Leon’s country home in Spennithorne, near by, while Britain’s new EEC Commissioner settles into a town house in Brussels. On Saturday Mr Hague, who was selected as prospective parliamentary candidate from 363 applicants, took constituency surgeries.
Was it not being over-confident, even with a 19,567 majority bequeathed by Sir Leon who represented Richmond for five years?
“I am not being presumptuous or taking anything for granted. I just wanted to be as helpful as I can to constituents.”
Mr Hague, whose family runs a soft drinks company in South Yorkshire, is aged 27. He has a schoolboy fresh face and fine blond hair but a liking for “country” sports jackets and cavalry twills a “young fogey”, someone said.
He has been a political “name” for some time. Eleven years ago, at the Conservative Party conference at Blackpool and aged only 16, he delivered a barnstorming speech that had the faithful, including Mrs Margaret Thatcher, on their feet. Here, she enthused, was the future of the party.
Such praise, Mr Hague reflected, could be a double-edge sword. “It has its assets and disadvantages. It was all 11 years ago and I thought then, as I do now, that it was all blown out of proportion.”
He contested a Labour seat in South Yorkshire at the last general election and took some pride in increasing the Conservative vote.
Mr Hague emphasizes that he is taking nothing for granted and will fight the seat as if he had a majority of one.
So far candidates have been selected by Labour, the Democrats, SDP and the Greens.
General election: Mr Leon Brittan (C) 34,995; Mr David Lloyd-Williams (L/All) 15,419; Mr Frank Robson (Lab) 6,737. Majority: 19,576.
Daily Mail, August 8th, 1995
Nigel Dempster, ‘Hague brings back the Birch’
JUST as cynics were beginning to despair that not very Welsh Secretary William Hague would ever find a woman to share his elation at becoming the youngest Cabinet member, an old flame has re-appeared on the scene.
Wonderboy William (whose idea of fun is to go hillwalking with Sir Leon Brittan) has been stepping out with an old schoolfriend from Wath-upon-Dearne Comprehensive in Yorkshire called Kim Birch.
At 34 she is the same age as the MP for Richmond.
‘William and Kim have had an on-off relationship for the past ten years,’ says a chum. ‘She recently went with him for a short tour of America and some of us did wonder if they would return engaged. But they didn’t.’
When William dated his last girlfriend, Barbara Kyriakou, four years ago (the relationship lasted a year) some sceptics wondered if the liaison could be cannily political – she was, after all, PA to John Major’s then PPS, Sir Graham Bright. Kim, however, has absolutely nothing to do with politics: she is a secretary in a firm of accountants. In which case it must be love.
The Sunday Times, June 15th, 1997
Michael Crick, ‘Just William?’
The Times, September 6th, 2014.
Frances Gibb and Laura Pitel, ‘London’s lord mayor to chair sex abuse inquiry’
The lord mayor of London, Fiona Woolf, is to be chairwoman of the government’s independent inquiry into historical child sex abuse.
The long-awaited appointment of Mrs Woolf, a leading corporate lawyer, comes after Baroness Butler-Sloss stepped down in July following concerns over potential conflicts of interest arising from the fact that her brother, Lord Havers, was attorney-general at the time of some of the events to be investigated.
Mrs Woolf, a former president of the Law Society and only the second woman mayor of the City of London, is widely liked and respected. However there are concerns about her lack of experience in family or criminal law — although that will be mitigated by the knowledge members of her team have.
It also emerged that she is the President of TheCityUK’s Advisory Council and Lord Brittan, the former home secretary who is likely to be investigated as part of the inquiry, is a member of that council.
Lord Brittan is at the centre of a furore about the way the Home Office handled a dossier on child sex abuse by senior politicians when he was in charge of the department. The dossier was subsequently lost.
A Whitehall source said that the Home Office had approached a series of other candidates with more experience than Mrs Woolf but many had been deterred by the level of public scrutiny faced by Lady Butler-Sloss before her resignation.
Professor Alexis Jay, author of the recent report into abuse in Rotherham, will act as an expert adviser to the panel, said the Home Office, and Ben Emmerson, the leading criminal and human rights QC, will serve as counsel to the inquiry.
Also on Mrs Woolf’s team is Graham Wilmer, a child sexual abuse victim and founder of the Lantern Project, and Barbara Hearn, the former deputy head of the National Children’s Bureau.
The inquiry will examine how the country’s institutions handled their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse over a period of decades.