A RETIRED judge appointed to chair a UK government inquiry into allegations that establishment figures conspired to cover up child abuse has insisted she will not quit.
Baroness Butler-Sloss faced calls to step down after reports that her brother, former attorney general Sir Michael Havers, tried to prevent the late Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens airing claims about a diplomat in parliament in the 1980s.
Sir Michael – a barrister and MP who became Lord Havers before his death in 1992 – is said to have had a 20-minute argument outside the House of Commons chamber with Mr Dickens in the 1980s in an attempt to stop him using parliamentary privilege to name diplomat Sir Peter Hayman as a paedophile.
The former High Court judge insisted yesterday that she had been unaware of reports.
“I know absolutely nothing about it,” she told the BBC. “If people think I am not suitable then that’s up to them.”
Asked whether she would consider her position or make further comment if calls continued for her to stand down, she added: “I am certainly not going to be talking to the BBC or anyone else about this any further.”
Following Lady Butler-Sloss’s appointment on Tuesday, there have been growing expressions of concern that the cross-bench peer is too closely tied to the establishment to carry out the inquiry announced by Home Secretary Theresa May this week. Asked whether David Cameron was confident she should head the inquiry, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Yes. She commands the very highest respect for her professional expertise and integrity. His view is that she does command widespread respect and confidence, and rightly so.”
Actor Nigel Havers, son of Lord Havers and Lady Butler-Sloss’s nephew, defended his aunt’s appointment. He said: “I know my aunt very well and had she felt any form of bias or any idea that she shouldn’t be doing this inquiry, she would have pulled out this morning.
“The very fact that she hasn’t means to me that she feels she has absolutely had no political ties to my father and knew nothing about what was going on in the House of Commons at that time and therefore she has every right to, I think, continue to lead the inquiry.” Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who led calls for the inquiry, said: “We want somebody in the chair that exudes confidence and that’s not the case. She is part of the establishment and that raises concerns, and the relationship in terms of her brother, I think, is too close for comfort. I think that’s the conclusion most people will reach.
“The government should think again in terms of who they have appointed for this position.”
Mr Danczuk added: “I think she should consider her position. I find it quite surprising that neither she nor the government realised her relationship with her brother was connected to Geoffrey Dickens and all the palaver around it.”
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said she did not doubt the peer’s integrity but it was “hard to see why Baroness Butler-Sloss would want to accept a role so many regard as conflicted at the outset”.
Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz has expressed surprise at the selection, pointing out that while Lady Butler-Sloss is “distinguished”, she is also a member of the House of Lords.
The Home Office said Lady Butler-Sloss’s integrity was “beyond reproach” and it stood “unreservedly” by her appointment.
In a written statement to MPs, Mrs May said: “Baroness Butler-Sloss brings with her many years of experience in the field of child protection and law, and I am confident that she will deliver the thorough, robust and independent review that I have promised.”