London - The woman heading Britain's inquiry into historic claims of child sex abuse by politicians and public figures resigned Monday less than a week after her appointment, following criticism over her links to the establishment.
Retired British judge Elizabeth Butler-Sloss came under fire because of a potential conflict of interest, as the investigation will likely look at the handling of allegations by her brother, a former attorney general.
Prime Minister David Cameron's office said it was “entirely her decision” to step down.
Butler-Sloss had been tasked to conduct wide-ranging inquiry into allegations of abuse right across the establishment, from schools to churches and care homes, focusing on how institutions failed to protect children.
It was sparked by allegations about a paedophile ring involving senior politicians during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. A separate review into whether civil servants covered up the claims about the politicians is also under way.
Long-running rumours about abuse by top Westminster figures have taken on new significance following a string of recent scandals about abuse by celebrities including late BBC star Jimmy Savile.
In a statement, Butler-Sloss, 80, acknowledged that she “did not sufficiently consider” the impact of her family connections when she accepted the appointment last Tuesday.
“It has become apparent over the last few days... that there is a widespread perception, particularly among victim and survivor groups, that I am not the right person to chair the inquiry,” she said.
“It has also become clear to me that I did not sufficiently consider whether my background and the fact my brother had been attorney general would cause difficulties.”
Her late brother Michael Havers, father of actor Nigel Havers, is alleged to have tried to prevent a former lawmaker from airing claims about a diplomat in parliament in the 1980s, when he was attorney general.
Another victim also alleged that Butler-Sloss kept claims against a bishop out of a 2011 review into how the Church of England dealt with two paedophile priests because she “cared about the Church”.
Lawyers for the victims had immediately attacked the appointment, and said they were “relieved” by Monday's announcement.
Alison Millar, head of the abuse team at law firm Leigh Day that is representing many alleged victims, said its clients were “pleased and... relieved” by the news.
“This was the only sensible decision to ensure that survivors and the public could feel confident that the inquiry was not going to be jeopardised by accusations of bias,” she said.
“The issue was never the integrity of Lady Butler-Sloss or what she knew of her brother's actions as the chief legal advisor to the government, it was always the fact that she would ultimately have to judge those actions.”
Interior minister Theresa May later defended her decision to appoint Butler-Sloss.
“I do not regret the decision I made,” she said under questioning from a committee of lawmakers.
“I continue to believe that Elizabeth Butler-Sloss would have done an excellent job as chair of this inquiry.”