THE North-East’s most senior churchman has criticised delays to the Government’s historic child abuse inquiry.

The Bishop of Durham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler, predicted the high-profile investigation would not get under way until late November at the earliest and said this was “undoubtedly an unfortunate delay”.

The bishop, who chairs the Church of England’s committee on abuse, cited the “very heavy duties” of the inquiry chair, Fiona Woolf, in her role as Lord Mayor of London.

Mrs Woolf, a 66-year-old commercial lawyer, was appointed after retired judge Baroness Butler-Sloss stepped aside because her brother had handled child abuse cases involving high-profile figures when he was Attorney General in the 1980s.

Addressing an international conference on Church safeguarding in London, Bishop Butler said: “Fiona Woolf, we now know, is to chair the national inquiry.

“I am delighted that Graham Wilmer of the Lantern Project is to be one of the key people working with her.

“We still wait for the naming of the full panel membership and the terms of reference by which they will be operating.

“Given her very heavy duties as Lord Mayor of London it is hard to see how the inquiry will really be able to get under way until late November at the earliest.

“This is undoubtedly an unfortunate delay since the initial announcement was made in early July.

“It has already led to concerns being expressed about files being shredded in Government departments and elsewhere. Conspiracy theories about the delay being a deliberate tactic to ensure it is all ineffective appear in blogs.

“Now I do not go with such theories, but it is going to be very important that the inquiry is very robust and seeks to work with some speed once it begins to assure everyone that it will really grasp some nettles.”