Butler-Sloss: I won't quit as head of abuse inquiry

Nigel Havers, Baroness Butler-Sloss's nephew: "She's completely independent of politics"

The retired judge appointed to chair a child abuse review has insisted she will not quit - as the PM claimed she was the right person for the job.

Elizabeth Butler-Sloss was chosen by the home secretary to head the inquiry into allegations of historical abuse.

But Labour's Simon Danczuk said her position was tainted because her late brother, Sir Michael Havers, was Attorney General in the 1980s.

Downing Street said the peer "commands widespread respect and confidence".

Baroness Butler-Sloss was announced on Tuesday as head of a wide-ranging probe into how allegations of abuse by politicians and other powerful figures in public institutions such as the NHS, the church and the BBC in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s were handled.

MPs and victims claim she is too close to the establishment, particularly as Sir Michael was Attorney General at the time of the alleged paedophile scandal.

Sir Michael Havers Sir Michael Havers, pictured here in 1965

But Alison Millar, the lawyer who represents alleged victims of child abuse, said she doubted her clients would think Lady Butler-Sloss was the right person for the job, especially given the connection with her brother.

Sir Michael faced criticism after he sought to stop Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens from naming in Parliament a top diplomat - Sir Peter Hayman - as a paedophile in the early 1980s.

But Lady Butler-Sloss said she was unaware of her brother having any role, as attorney general, in the paedophile controversy in the 1980s.

"I know absolutely nothing about it," she told the BBC. "If people think I am not suitable then that's up to them."

One man has told the BBC how he was passed "from abuser to abuser"

Asked if 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."

Her nephew, the actor Nigel Havers, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One, that he knew his aunt well and he was sure that if she felt there was any chance of bias, she would not have taken on the job.

The former Chariots of Fire and Coronation Street actor, added that she had "had no political ties" to his father and knew nothing about the alleged events in the 1980s in Parliament.

Alison Millar, head of the abuse law team at Leigh Day Solicitors: ''The inquiry has to have the confidence of survivors''

A Number 10 spokesman rebuffed suggestions the peer would be unable to investigate all areas of the abuse inquiry because of her brother's involvement in the controversy as Attorney General in the early 1980s.

The spokesman declined to say whether the PM was aware of her brother's position prior to her appointment, adding: "His view is she commands widespread respect and confidence."

The suitability of Lady Butler-Sloss did not come up at Prime Minister's Questions, although the remit of her planned inquiry did.

In response to a question from Labour leader Ed Miliband at Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron said it "may well be time" to back calls by the NSPCC's Peter Wanless - in charge of a separate review into how the Home Office responded to child sex abuse allegations in the 1980s - to make covering up abuse a criminal offence.

Earlier Mr Danczuk, who has investigated child sex abuse allegations against former Liberal MP Cyril Smith, said the revelations of a family connection with Sir Michael meant Lady Butler-Sloss' position was compromised.

'Cover-up' offence?

"I think the government should think again in terms of who they have appointed for this position," he said.

"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.

"It beggars belief that that wasn't considered in the first place."

line
Key questions answered
Westminster

Why has this come up now?

Labour MP Simon Danczuk last week called on Leon Brittan to say what the then home secretary did with documents he was passed in the 1980s containing allegations about powerful figures and paedophilia.

What happened to the files?

Lord Brittan passed them to Home Office officials. A 2013 review found 114 documents were unaccounted for. The review found the minister had acted appropriately.

What did the papers allege?

The allegations, compiled by Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens, were set to "blow the lids off" the lives of powerful child abusers, the MP's son has said. The late Mr Dickens said he planned to expose eight such figures.

Read more: 1980s child abuse claims explained

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Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, chairman of the Commons health select committee, has also cast doubt on whether Lady Butler-Sloss can continue. She wrote on Twitter: "Not doubting her integrity but hard to see why Baroness Butler-Sloss would want to accept a role so many regard as conflicted at the outset."

Keith Vaz, Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee said he was surprised at the selection, pointing out that while Lady Butler-Sloss was "distinguished" she was also a member of the House of Lords.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said the peer was "categorically not the right person to lead child abuse inquiry," because of the involvement of her brother, adding: "No one should be expected to investigate a close member of their own family as part of an official enquiry. "

And Ms Millar, head of the abuse law team at Leigh Day Solicitors, urged the peer to step down.

"There needs to be not a shred of doubt that this inquiry is not an establishment cover up - and the concern really is that she is just too close to the establishment, particularly with this connection to Sir Michael Havers," she told the BBC.

Ms Millar represents some of the alleged victims of the Elm Guest House in London - the location where a number of sex abuse cases were alleged to have taken place.

'Gagging clause'

But former Tory children's minister Tim Loughton stressed the inquiry was "not a one woman show" and Lady Butler-Sloss would have a panel of independently-minded people working with her.

"Frankly, I despair," he told the BBC. "We're getting to the stage where even if the Queen were asked to chair this inquiry, there would be those saying there's a conflict of interest. If I'd been the home secretary, I would've appointed Elizabeth Butler-Sloss as well.

"We need somebody who has huge integrity, who has respect, who has great independence and has the expertise and knowledge to focus this inquiry... there are few people able to do it and Elizabeth Butler-Sloss is the obvious choice."

Labour MP John Mann said "multiple copies" of Geoffrey Dickens' abuse dossier, which he passed to then Home Secretary Leon Brittan in the 1980s, had been circulated.

He claimed the only reason why people were not coming forward to say anything about them was because they were bound by the Official Secrets' Act.

"They need the gagging clause removed... they fear being prosecuted," he told the BBC.

Lady Butler-Sloss was coroner for the inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Al Fayed until she stepped down in 2007.

Dodi Al Fayed and Diana, Princess of Wales Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Al Fayed, pictured shortly before their deaths in 1997

She is also a former president of the Family Division of the High Court and was chair of the Cleveland Child Abuse Inquiry,

Despite her experience, BBC News Channel chief political correspondent Norman Smith said MPs had also raised question marks over her age - she will be 81 next month.

A Home Office spokesman, however, defended the appointment of Lady Butler-Sloss despite her family link to the controversy.

"Baroness Butler-Sloss has had a long and distinguished career at the highest levels of this country's legal system," he said. "Her work leading the Cleveland child abuse inquiry and as president of the High Court Family Division make her the perfect person to lead this important piece of work.

"As the Permanent Secretary told the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday, the integrity of Baroness Butler-Sloss is beyond reproach and we stand by her appointment unreservedly."

A source added: "She is a person of impeccable credentials and experience. Her record stands for itself regardless of her brother."

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    12:32: English nationalism Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    Robin Tilbrook

    English nationalism is always seen as something negative, unlike Scottish and Welsh nationalisms, says Julia Hartley-Brewer. The panel are discussing the role of the English Democrats with the party's leader Robin Tilbrook, who says he wants England as a single, independent nation - not broken up into constituent parts, but standing alone.

     
  76.  
    @George_Osborne George Osborne

    tweets: 1 month until biggest reforms to pensions in a century come in. Your money, your choice #pensionfreedoms

     
  77.  
    12:30: 'Can't go preaching' on defence Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    We can't "go around preaching" to other NATO countries that they should spend 2% of their GDP on defence and not do it ourselves, says Bob Stewart. But he says he won't resign from the Conservative Party on the issue. Journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown suggests the UK needs a "different kind" of defence.

     
  78.  
    12:21: Miliband's vow to pensioners
    Ed Miliband

    Ed Miliband is in Redcar, on the Yorkshire coast, to set out his offer to pensioners at the general election. "Even in these tough times," he says, "we will strengthen the protection for pensioners." The party would cut the winter fuel allowance for better-off pensioners, but all other benefits, including TV licences for the over 75s and bus passes, would be untouched if Labour wins power. Full details here.

     
  79.  
    @tnewtondunn Tom Newton Dunn, political editor of The Sun

    tweets: I hear ITV contemplating going unilateral and hosting a 7 way debate as per No10 offer, as they have 1st one. Would send BBC/Sky apoplectic.

     
  80.  
    12:14: Bob Stewart on defence Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    Bob Stewart MP

    Colonel Bob Stewart, the Tory MP, says he feels "horror" at the prospect of defence spending falling after the election. The former British Army officer says defence is the first priority, and we are already "down to the bare minimum". He disputes the idea there are no votes in defence, saying the public cares about the issue. Debate is raging in the Conservative Party over whether defence spending should be ring fenced at 2% of GDP.

     
  81.  
    12:08: 'Everything to play for' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    Daily Politics

    On the subject of a possible Labour/SNP deal after the election, journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says Ed Miliband should not rule out a possible pact - it would "be a mistake", she thinks. Julia Hartley-Brewer agrees - "everything is to play for", but Mr Miliband should set out what his red lines are and what deals he might do.

    But is it a nationalist trap to facilitate the break-up of the UK? "One should not be automatically suspicious" says Alibhai-Brown. Nicola Sturgeon is different from Alex Salmond, she adds, praising the SNP leader as "very appealing" (and as having "beautiful nails").

     
  82.  
    @bbc5live BBC Radio 5 live

    tweets: Just how crumbly is the Palace of Westminster?

    @JPonpolitics went through the keyhole

     
  83.  
    11:55: Tories on Labour/SNP

    Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps has been speaking about a potential Labour/SNP deal after the election. He says such a deal would "mean more debt than our children could ever hope to repay, higher taxes on hardworking people and economic chaos for our country."

    He adds: "Ed Miliband and the SNP have signed the pre-nup and are now half-way up the aisle.

    "Day after day, vote after vote in Parliament, Ed Miliband would be forced to negotiate with Alex Salmond - the man who tried to break up Britain - about how to run Britain."

     
  84.  
    11:51: Democrats 'flying the flag' BBC News Channel
    Robin Tilbrook

    Robin Tilbrook of the English Democrats has been speaking about the difference between his party and UKIP. Asked whether his policies are the same as Nigel Farage's party he said he "didn't know about that" and described Mr Farage as having torn up his own party's manifesto in a "fit of pique".

    Mr Tilbrook went on to set out the English Democrats' hopes for the election: "I don't think we will win a seat to be fair, we're not aiming to do that what we are aiming to do is to fly the flag for England."

     
  85.  
    11:43: Major "embarrassing" Labour
    Stewart Hosie at party conference

    Stewart Hosie MP has labelled John Major's comments on a potential Labour/SNP deal after the election as "embarrassing" for Labour.

    The SNP Deputy leader said in a statement: "For a former Tory prime minister to tell Labour what to do on the eve of their conference in Scotland is hugely embarrassing for Jim Murphy.

    "John Major wants the Tories to be re-elected in May, and therefore he wants Labour to rule out an agreement with the SNP, because that would stop the Tories. There are no circumstances in which the SNP would put the Tories into government - the question is if Labour have the same commitment, with a number of senior Labour figures promoting voting Tory in Scotland, and even the idea of a 'grand alliance' between the Tories and Labour.

    "A strong team of SNP MPs elected in May means a powerful voice for Scotland - and that is really what the Westminster establishment, Labour and Tory, are really scared of."

     
  86.  
    11:35: Greens gunning for Bristol West BBC News Channel
    Molly Scott Cato

    Green MEP Molly Scott Cato has just been setting the Greens' electoral ambitions. She told the BBC's Eleanor Garnier electoral success would mean holding former leader Caroline Lucas's Brighton Pavillion seat and gaining Bristol West

    She said the now notorious Natalie Bennett LBC interview was just a case of the leader having an "off day", which no one outside Westminster is talking about. And she suggested the media now moves on.

     
  87.  
    11:27: Games fail

    Another politician has been caught playing on their tablet during a meeting. Lib Dem councillor Martin Elengorn was snapped by a Tory rival playing a sneaky game of Scrabble during a town hall meeting in Richmond, South London, reports the Evening Standard. The incident has put him off the game for life, apparently.

     
  88.  
    11:20: Labour 'at war' over resources The Scotsman

    According to today's Scotsman, there is a row in Scottish Labour over where to concentrate resources ahead of the election. The paper says several MPs have "demanded" the party gives up on trying to save the west of Scotland, with one even saying they should abandon Glasgow - previously a hot bed of Labour support, but which voted in favour of independence at the referendum. This comes after a poll suggested Labour could lose most of its seat north of the border. More here.

     
  89.  
    11:11: Sing-a-long-a-UKIP You Tube

    For those looking for something to make their Friday lunchtime go with a swing, here's UKIP candidate for Stockton Mandy Boylett singing her cover version of Abba's Chiquitita, with rewritten lyrics tackling the government's record on immigration and criticising her electoral opponent, Labour MP Alex Cunningham.

    All together now...

     
  90.  
    @TheGreenParty The Green Party

    tweets: .@TheGreenParty welcomes over 1,300 attendees to @ACCLiverpool for the Party's largest ever Conference. #gpconf

    AND

    tweets: .@TheGreenParty membership stands at almost 56,000 #gpconf #GreenSurge

     
  91.  
    11:02: Immigration-led cuts in services The Daily Telegraph

    More on immigration, with the Telegraph reporting that population increases fuelled by immigration have helped to contribute to cuts of almost 50 per cent cut in council services in parts of the country.

    The paper cites IFS analysis that shows councils which had big influxes of immigrants were among those hit the hardest by cuts to local authority budgets.

     
  92.  
    @LBC LBC

    tweets: Nigel Farage's response to the woman who called him the Messiah is hilarious!

     
  93.  
    10:46: Lab/SNP pact would 'save' union

    Amid all the calls for Ed Miliband to rule out a coalition with the SNP, an alternative take on politics.co.uk. The piece argues that ignoring SNP electoral success would push Westminster further from Scotland, whereas Ed Miliband and Sturgeon arm-in-arm would send a powerful "better together" message.

     
  94.  
    @Plaid_Cymru Plaid Cymru

    tweets: "The vision I've got for Wales is one where no individual is left behind & more autonomy is how we can achieve that" Leanne tells students

     
  95.  
    10:29: SNP 'hurts Labour'
    Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy MP and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon MSP

    More comment on a possible Labour/SNP coalition from Phil Collins in today's Times (subscription required).

    He writes: "Give or take a few Lib Dem seats, the rise and fall of the SNP and Labour is a zero-sum game. The SNP hurts Labour and benefits the Conservatives. This is a split in the left that will surpass the damage that UKIP can do to the Conservatives south of the border."

    He calls for Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy to, therefore, rule out a coalition with the SNP.

     
  96.  
    10:23: Labour to set out pensioner offer
    Labour leader Ed Miliband MP

    Ed Miliband is to set out his party's offer to pensioners at a campaign event in Yorkshire later today.

    The Labour leader will pledge to maintain the 'triple lock' on the state pension and guarantee free bus passes and free TV licences to all those currently eligible. But he will say he will take away winter fuel payments from the richest five per cent of pensioners.

    More here.

     
  97.  
    10:17: Challenge for Bennett The Daily Telegraph
    Green party leader Natalie Bennett

    Today's Telegraph may make reassuring reading for Green party leader Natalie Bennett, ahead of her party conference speech this afternoon.

    Although the paper reports some knives out for Ms Bennett among the membership, following her performance during 'that' LBC interview, the piece says the numbers dissatisfied are not enough for any move against her as leader. A petition of ten per cent of the membership is required to trigger a leadership election.

    We will be covering Natalie Bennett's speech here around 14:00 GMT.

     
  98.  
    10:08: Plaid conference
    Leanne Wood

    Plaid Cymru is holding its conference in Caernarfon today. In her speech - expected early this afternoon - party leader Leanne Wood will urge the "Westminster parties" to promise Wales an extra £1.2bn a year. You can follow the proceedings here.

     
  99.  
    10:01: 'Serious concerns' over parking plans
    Car park

    The Local Government Association has been responding to the government's announcement that drivers will get 10 minutes' grace before being fined if they stay too long in council-owned car parks in England. Cllr David Sparks, the body's chair, says many councils already allow grace periods.

    He adds: "We are concerned that government has rushed through today's announcement and failed to fully consult councils on the detail of the regulation. Beyond the headlines, what is particularly worrying is the detail of these proposals which could make roads less safe for vulnerable pedestrians and inconvenience millions of motorists and commuters.

    "We have serious concerns about the decision to ban the use of CCTV on zebra crossings and bus routes. This decision could endanger vulnerable road users such as children, blind or disabled people and create delays for millions of bus users."

     
  100.  
    09:55: Farage on 'negative campaign'

    A bit more from Nigel Farage on the tone of the election campaign.

    The UKIP leader has ruled out making personal attacks on his opponents for the duration of the campaign and blamed the influence of American advisers for what he predicted would be the most negative contest ever.

    Mr Farage laid blame for the tone on "Washington spin doctors" - the Conservatives' Jim Messina and Labour's David Axelrod.

    "What I'm seeing in this election is the influence of these big American advisers and it's becoming the most negative, personal and nasty campaign I've ever seen," he said.

    The UKIP leader hit out at criticism of his Labour counterpart, telling LBC radio: "I don't agree with what most of Ed Miliband stands for but he's a perfectly decent human being.

    "For him to be attacked personally day after day after day - how is that taking us forward? I'm going to do my best over the next 60-odd days to rise above it."

     

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