A new national child abuse inquiry will investigate the theft of key files from a Rotherham Council worker’s office, its chairwoman has confirmed.
Fiona Woolf told the Home Affairs Select Committee that she ‘absolutely’ wants more information about what happened to the files and the details they contained.
She said the inquiry may even visit Rotherham as part of its investigations - and could ask for additional powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.
“We will be asking very awkward questions. If we can’t get answers we would have to go to the Home Secretary and ask for more powers to compel,” she said.
It comes after the select committee called for an ‘urgent’ investigation into the theft of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation files. Documents were taken from the locked office of a Rotherham Council worker in 2002 as the woman worked on a Home Office funded project to investigate ways of stopping grooming gangs.
Professor Alexis Jay, who published the Rotherham abuse report, has previously agreed to be an expert adviser to the panel. The new inquiry will look at abuse issues dating from 1970 to the present day and consider whether public bodies - and other, non-state, institutions - have done enough to protect children from sexual abuse.
Mrs Woolf’s comments came as doubts were raised about her suitability to head the inquiry because of her social links to former Home Secretary Lord Brittan, who is expected to be called to give evidence to the inquiry over a dossier he received from MP Geoffrey Dickens in 1983, documenting the alleged involvement of VIP figures in a child sex ring.
She was only named as chair after original choice Lady Butler-Sloss stepped down because her brother was attorney general at the time some of the alleged abuse occurred.
Mrs Woolf revealed she had been to five dinner parties with Lord and Lady Brittan and had also met the peer’s wife for coffee. But she said the meetings should not stop her chairing the inquiry.