City solicitor and former Law Society president Fiona Woolf this evening stepped down as head of an inquiry into historical child abuse after groups representing victims told the Home Office that they were unanimous that she should go.
Earlier, Woolf, who is currently Lord Mayor of London, had made an impassioned defence of her position.
In a letter to the House of Commons home affairs select committee chair Keith Vaz, Woolf had reiterated that there was ‘nothing’ that should prevent her from fulfilling her role as chair of the independent inquiry.
Victims' groups had queried her links to Lord Brittan of Spennithorne - who as Leon Brittan was home secretary in the 1980s - and his wife. One victim of historical child sexual abuse has launched a legal challenge to the inquiry claiming it should be statutory and there should be consultation on terms of reference.
In her letter to Vaz, which includes a draft of her letter earlier this month to home secretary Theresa May, Woolf addresses times where she had interactions with the Brittans. She said it was ‘impossible’ to establish definitively who attended particular social events.
On a photograph showing her with Lady Brittan and news presenter Martyn Lewis, Woolf said this captured ‘one moment of an entire evening’ and she did not recall any ‘substantial interaction’ with Lady Brittan among scores of other guests.
She also said she could not remember ‘any interaction’ with Lord Brittan at an event at which she hosted the French prime minister and other dignitaries.
Woolf added: ‘My fellow panel members and I are all determined that the job we do will be thorough, will pull no punches and show no favours.’
Woolf was brought in after Lady Butler-Sloss stepped down from her role as chair when it was revealed that her late brother was attorney general at the time of some of the allegations. Lord Brittan has insisted proper procedures were followed.
The inquiry was announced by Theresa May in July this year following allegations that a dossier about alleged paedophiles at Westminster was destroyed after it was handed to Leon Brittan as home secretary in the 1980s.
In a statement this evening May said: 'It is with regret that I accepted Fiona Woolf’s resignation today. I believe she would have carried out her duties with integrity, impartiality and to the highest standard.'