Butler-Sloss quits: the wrong woman for the job

Big Ben, Westminster

The appointment of Baroness Butler-Sloss as the chair of a landmark child abuse inquiry was a gross misjudgement by Downing Street.

Baroness Butler-Sloss has stood down as the head of the inquiry into how historical child sex abuse allegations were handled, and it's hardly surprising. It was clear from the moment her appointment was announced that her ‘establishment’ position as well as her brother’s involvement in an alleged paedophile ‘cover up’ rendered her completely unsuitable for the role in what is set to be the largest landmark inquiry of its kind.

Last Monday the Home Secretary Theresa May announced Butler-Sloss, 80, would chair the panel. A retired high court judge, Butler-Sloss has enjoyed a prolific career. However, despite her undoubtable knowledge, skill and experience her conflict of interest regarding this inquiry made her unfit for carrying out the extensive task ahead.

The inquiry will look at how the government, church and other public bodies including the BBC and NHS handled child abuse cases during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. It follows the revelation that many documents, compiled in the 1980’s containing damning allegations regarding public figures and their involvement in paedophilic circles, have gone ‘unaccounted’ for.

The main concern was with regard to her brother the late Sir Michael Havers who was the Attorney General 1979-1987, a period in which much of the prolific abuse is said to have taken place. Sir Havers was involved in the alleged ‘cover up’ of the dossier exposing the diplomat Sir Peter Hayman as involved with the Paedophile Network Exchange that is now at the very centre of this inquiry. He also took the decision to not prosecute the diplomat regardless of evidence that he was guilty of paedophilic offences.

It was an entirely unconvincing argument that Butler-Sloss would be able to remain entirely objective throughout the inquiry with her brother being so closely involved with many of its allegations.

Despite the serious doubts cast over her appointment, the government maintained their decision. The Home Office rushed to defend it ‘unreservedly’ with David Cameron naming Butler-Sloss as the ‘right person for the job.’ It seems regardless of Lady Butler-Sloss’ integrities it would have been impossible and in fact simply unfair to expect someone chairing an inquiry in which they have such a personal interest to remain impartial.

It is outrageous that the government attempted to stand by their clearly misjudged decision in light of the implications this investigation could have. It is to be a landmark inquiry on an unprecedented scale; the abuse to investigate spans decades and could involve some of the most ‘untouchable’ public figures. If Cameron intends to stand by his pledge to leave “no stone unturned” then he was wrong to not have reconsidered the government’s decision to employ such a biased figure as their lead enquirer. It is highly ironic that an inquiry into the way that investigations were carried out by past-governments should come under question for such an inappropriate appointment by this government.

Butler-Sloss’ appointment reflected a gross misjudgement by Downing Street and one which it is shameful was not reconsidered by their own volition. With such a far reaching inquiry it is simply inexcusable that an appointment with the potential to cause such a severe miscarriage of justice would remain unchanged.With the impact that this investigation could have to lives of victims, abusers and to the reputation of some of the UK’s largest and most trusted public bodies it is clear that her decision to step down is the right one. It is simply a shame that the government did not recognise this monumental mistake earlier and appointed someone else rather than forcing one of this country's most prestigious judges to admit defeat and step down themselves.