The head of the inquiry into child sex abuse resigns after concerns emerged over her links with former home secretary Lord Brittan.
Mrs Woolf, a City lawyer and Lord Mayor of London, stepped down after abuse victims met the panel of inquiry into historic child sexual abuse to discuss the case on Friday.
It follows claims that a letter setting out Mrs Woolf’s contacts with Lord Brittan and his wife was redrafted seven times, with guidance from Home Office officials, before being sent to Home Secretary Theresa May.
The links with the Brittans have come under scrutiny because he is likely to be called to give evidence to the inquiry about his handling of child abuse allegations.
The former cabinet minister denies failing to act on a dossier of paedophilia allegations he received while in office in the 1980s.
In a statement issued by the City of London Corporation, Mrs Woolf said:
“When I took on this important inquiry, I was determined to ensure that the victims’ voices were heard and that, as a society, we got to the truth regarding the repeated failure of institutions meant to protect them. Sadly, it’s become clear that the inquiry as chaired by me will not have widespread victim support – and I am particularly sensitive to the views of victims, many of whom have demonstrated immense courage.
It’s become clear that the inquiry as chaired by me will not have widespread victim support. Fiona Woolf
“As their needs must be paramount, I have decided to stand aside so that this important work can proceed without the obstacle of negative speculation and comment.”
The statement ends:
“The whole of society needs to work together to ensure that the victims, and potential future victims, of child sexual abuse are properly safeguarded. Now we must all ensure that we seize the opportunity for change that this inquiry offers.”
Theresa May said she had accepted Mrs Woolf’s resignation “with regret”.
The Home Secretary added: “I believe she would have carried out her duties with integrity, impartiality and to the highest standard.
“I decided to set up this inquiry because it’s imperative that we establish the extent to which institutions in this country have taken seriously their duty of care towards children. Recent reports from Rotherham and Greater Manchester demonstrate the importance of this work.
“As with Hillsborough, the best way to do this is through an independent panel inquiry. I believe we have a panel which brings a wide range of experience and expertise and one that survivors can have confidence in.”
Mrs Woolf was chosen to lead the inquiry following the resignation of Lady Butler-Sloss in July. Lady Butler-Sloss’s brother, Sir Michael Havers, was attorney general in the 1980s, when some of the abuse is said to have taken place.
Fiona Woolf’s appointment as chairwoman of the historic child sex abuse inquiry was meant to restore confidence in the inquiry, but quickly plunged it into fresh controversy.
Her installation was initially welcomed by campaigners who were keen for the investigation to begin and she was described by Labour MP Simon Danczuk as a “smart and capable woman”.
Peter Saunders, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said victims would rather wait for a proper inquiry than rush forward with a “paper exercise”.
He said earlier that victims were “unanimous in our feeling that Fiona Woolf cannot remain as chair”.
There are one or two people who have said ‘We’ve just got to get on with this’. Peter Saunders
He added: “It has to be a statutory inquiry, the terms of reference need to be looked at the geographical spread.
“There are one or two people who have said ‘We’ve just got to get on with this’.
“Well no, I don’t agree. I think most survivors of abuse have waited a long, long time to get a voice and they are more than happy to wait a little longer to make the whole thing work rather than steam ahead with a sort of paper exercise with the sort of wishy-washy terms of reference that we have at the moment.”
Edinburgh-born, the former Law Society president was educated at St Denis School before reading law at Keele University and completing a diploma in comparative law at the University of Strasbourg.
Mrs Woolf, 66, qualified as a solicitor in 1973 and became a partner at CMS Cameron McKenna eight years later. The solicitor told MPs she knows “thousands” of people in London but insisted she is not a member of the establishment.
The chief executive of The Children’s Society criticised the delays in the inquiry, saying “to make this a reality, this inquiry must get underway”.
Matthew Reed said: “This critical inquiry has already been delayed twice. Now, it is vital that, as steps are taken to find a new chair, its work continues. The victims and survivors of child sexual abuse have already waited too long to get the justice they deserve.
“The inquiry needs to take effective action to protect, help and support the victims of child sexual exploitation and enable their voices to be heard. But to make this a reality, this inquiry must get underway.”