Proceedings to remove chair for ‘unacceptable’ comments were underway.
The Deputy First Minister has today (Monday) accepted the resignation of Susan O’Brien QC as chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and written to parliament advising he initiated a formal process on 20 May 2016 which could have led to removal of the chair from her post.
The decision to initiate that process, using powers under Section 12 of the Inquiries Act 2005, followed an incident where the chair revealed views that were interpreted by an expert in child abuse trauma who witnessed them 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 viewed as acceptable. The expert had been retained by the Inquiry to provide critical professional psychological support, including to survivors giving evidence.
In light of this incident, John Swinney initiated a process laid down in statute which could have led to the removal of the chair from her post. This process included a formal procedure of evidence gathering and the opportunity for the chair to explain events. The chair did not dispute the comments were made but maintained they were acceptable in the context in which they were made.
In light of Ms O’Brien’s resignation, the Section 12 process has now been superseded and in line with his duty of transparency, Mr Swinney has written to the Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee providing the details of the case.
The Deputy First Minister will be meeting survivors on Thursday and will take urgent steps to appoint a new chair of the Inquiry. Glenn Houston remains a member of the inquiry panel and steps are being taken to fill the vacant chair and panel posts.
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.
“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 will now initiate a process to recruit a new chair for 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 focussed on supporting them as they work on behalf of abuse survivors.”
Copies of related correspondence will be published here.