Child Abuse Inquiry Chair Quits Amid Comments Row

4 July 2016, 16:53 | Updated: 4 July 2016, 16:54

The chair of a major inquiry into child abuse in Scotland has resigned following claims she made comments that were "offensive'' to survivors.

Susan O'Brien QC will no longer lead the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, which is due to begin public hearings in November.

It comes less than a week after panel member Professor Michael Lamb stepped down, citing interference by ministers.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said a new chair will be recruited and inquiry staff will "continue to deliver the highest quality of work''.

Mr Swinney revealed that he set in motion a formal process on May 20 which could have ultimately led to Ms O'Brien's removal as chair, following comments which were found to indicate a belief system ``incompatible with the post''.

She did not dispute that the comments were made but maintained they were acceptable in the context in which they were made, the Scottish Government said.

Mr Swinney said: "Our priority has always been to support the successful operation of the inquiry, ensuring it continues to make progress. Sadly, the comments of the chair raised serious concerns.

"The comments made were considered by a leading abuse trauma expert to be totally unacceptable and to indicate a belief system that is incompatible with the post of chair of such an inquiry; to be offensive to survivors and to lack any context in which they could be seen as acceptable.

"What's more, these actions had the potential to cause the loss of confidence of survivors - the very people at the heart of the inquiry.

"Given the severity of those concerns, I felt I had a duty to initiate statutory proceedings which could have led to removal of the chair from post.

"Ms O'Brien's resignation clearly now means that process has not been concluded and frees me to now share the facts of the case with Parliament. I am happy for a committee of Parliament to consider this matter and any claims made by the chair.''

Glenn Houston remains as the sole member of the panel, which has been tasked with addressing seven decades of abuse of children in faith-based organisations, children's homes, foster care, long-term hospital care and boarding schools.

Mr Lamb sent a resignation letter to Mr Swinney last week, suggesting the review was ''doomed'' due to government interference.

He said the Scottish Government had delayed or prevented the appointment of ''crucial'' members of staff and officials had questioned decisions taken by the independent panel.

The Cambridge psychology professor warned that the team's fact-finding ''should not be constrained or micro-managed by one of the bodies whose actions or failures to act may ultimately be criticised''.

He wrote: ''Repeated threats to the inquiry's independence have undermined the panel's freedom to address the terms of reference and have doomed the inquiry before the first witness has been heard.''

The abuse inquiry has already begun taking evidence from elderly and ill members of the public, ahead of the first session later this year.

The hearing is expected to focus on the current provision of psychological support for those who have suffered abuse.

Some groups have said they are unhappy with the scope of the inquiry and have called on the government to widen the remit to include institutions such as the Catholic Church.

Mr Swinney, who will meet survivors on Thursday to discuss the progress of the review, said urgent steps are being taken to appoint a new chair and panel member.

He said: "This government absolutely rejects any charges of interference in the independence of the inquiry.

"The issues that concern the government are about having a robust independent inquiry that can operate without fear or favour, fulfilling our responsibilities set out in the Inquiries Act 2005 and other relevant legislation and ensuring that the chair's departure has as little impact as possible on the progress of the work needed.

"These events have been very difficult for the team who are conducting the work of the inquiry.

"We are confident that the inquiry staff will continue to deliver the highest quality of work and the Scottish Government will always remain focused on supporting them as they work on behalf of abuse survivors.''