SCOTLAND’s beleaguered child abuse inquiry has suffered another setback after the Government sent out a desperate appeal for staff to work on its side of the investigation.
A leaked email reveals the Government is at “serious risk” of missing a deadline set by the inquiry and warns of a “potential loss of credibility” among stakeholders.
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Established in 2015, the inquiry is examining the abuse of children in care going back decades. It is currently taking evidence from people who were abused and a report is expected by late 2019.
However, the complex probe has endured various crises, such as the resignation of all three of the original inquiry panellists.
In June last year, Professor Michael Lamb quit after claiming that the inquiry was “doomed” due to government interference.
He wrote: "It has become increasingly clear over the last nine months that the panel cannot act independently and that the Scottish Government intends to continue interfering in ways large and small, directly and indirectly."
Weeks later, the then chair Susan O’Brien QC resigned and echoed the concerns of her erstwhile colleague: “My trust that the Scottish Government will actually respect the independence of the inquiry has gone. You have therefore left me with 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.”
At the time, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said he had accepted her resignation after starting the formal procedure to remove her from post.
O’Brien is now suing the Scottish Government for £500,000 in loss of earnings and damage to her reputation following her departure from the role. She was replaced by Lady Smith. Glenn Houston, the last of the original panel members, quit last month, citing personal reasons.
The Sunday Herald can now reveal that the Scottish Government is struggling to attract staff to work on the Inquiry.
In an internal email to employees on Wednesday, a civil servant wrote: “If no staff can be found there is a serious risk that the Scottish Ministers will miss the deadline set by the inquiry, with consequential reputational loss for Ministers and a potential loss of credibility with key stakeholders in the Inquiry itself.”
It is understood the email relates to the Government’s role as a “core participant” in the investigation.
Being granted this status by the inquiry means an organisation or an individual has a “significant role” in the matters being examined, also having access to evidence and documents which may not be available to the public.
As well as the Government, seven other organisations have been granted core participant status, such as Police Scotland, the Church of Scotland Social Care Council and the Care Inspectorate.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry said: "Scottish Government applied for and was granted core participant status and how they resource and manage their involvement is a matter for them. The Inquiry team is completely separate from this and continues to work resolutely on its current investigations and preparing for the first oral hearings in May."
Gray said: “The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has lurched from one crisis to another. All the original panellists have resigned, and one is suing the Scottish Government, while another alleged government interference. Survivors’ trust in the whole process has been stretched to breaking point.
“Given the shambles this has been, perhaps we should not be surprised that the Government is struggling to find staff willing to work for it. If civil servants think there is only now a potential loss of credibility in this inquiry, they have not been listening to survivors, some of whom have already lost faith in it. As for Ministers’ reputational loss, for most survivors that ship sailed long ago.
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Tavish Scott said: "This inquiry has been beset by problems from day one. The Scottish Government needs to be transparent and open about the delays caused to the inquiry getting underway. Maintaining the integrity of the inquiry is more important than any governments reputations."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government takes very seriously its role as a core participant in the independent public inquiry into in-care child abuse. As part of that we are working to ensure we have the people and process in place to respond to the requests and requirements of the Inquiry process.”