Child abuse inquiry chair resigns after row

Web susan obrien

Susan O'Brien QC

​Susan O'Brien QC says she cannot reassure the public that Scotland's national child abuse inquiry will be conducted independently of government

Paul Cardwell's photo

5th July 2016 by Paul Cardwell 0 Comments

The chair of the inquiry into historic cases of childhood abuse in Scotland has quit her post after being threatened with the sack for comments she made at a training session.

Susan O’Brien QC handed in her resignation to deputy first minister John Swinney after he started the formal process to have her removed following a complaint to the inquiry made by an expert in child abuse trauma. The expert said O'Brien made comments that indicated a belief system that is incompatible with the post of chair of such an inquiry.

In her letter of resignation O’Brien however claimed government officials were trying to control the inquiry and that she could no longer vouch for its independence thus leaving her with no option to resign.

Senior psychologist Dr Claire Fyvie, head of services at the Rivers Centre at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, which was tasked with providing support for those giving or listening to evidence during the inquiry, wrote O’Brien had recalled that someone affected by childhood abuse in a boarding school had described it as “the best thing that had ever happened to [them].” She also said O'Brien had suggested a teacher accused of abuse may simply have had a hole in his trousers.

In O’Brien’s resignation letter the QC defended herself saying she had done nothing wrong.

My trust that the Scottish Government will actually respect the independence of the inquiry has gone

She said the remarks were made in passing during a training session in February and the first was her accurately reporting, without endorsing, what a survivor had said to her about his attitude to his own abuse.

The second was a reference, O’Brien said, to newspaper reports of a recent trail.

In a blistering attack on the Scottish Government O’Brien said officials had “sought to micromanage and control the inquiry” – echoing similar comments made by Professor Michael Lamb who last week quit the panel heading up the inquiry.

She wrote: “Since you have approached the dismissal of a chair so casually, on the basis of misunderstandings and inaccurate allegations about my “attitudes and beliefs … with regard to survivors of child abuse”, I have no confidence that you would not try to dismiss me again another time, even if you decide against dismissal now.”

She continued: “I cannot reassure the public that this inquiry will be conducted independently of government. My trust that the Scottish Government will actually respect the independence of the inquiry has gone. You have therefore left me within no alternative but to resign. I do so with a heavy heart, as I am clear that there is a real need for this Inquiry to take place.”

Reacting to O’Brien’s resignation Swinney released a statement defending his decision to begin proceedings against her.

He said: “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.”