​Abuse inquiry barrister calls for removal of panel member

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May.(Reuters / Neil Hall )
The senior barrister in charge of advising an historic sex abuse inquiry has asked for one of the panel members to be removed. This follows accusations he had bullied her and attempted to influence members of the panel.

Ben Emmerson QC protested against Sharon Evan’s position on the panel after she told its members that he had “overstepped the mark.”

Evans is one of only two abuse survivors to sit on the panel, which had a turbulent beginning after the two selected chairwomen, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf, both stepped down.

Evans reportedly told MPs currently investigating internal failures in the committee that Emmerson had tried to exercise control over her during questioning, and influence her in such a way as to stop her giving “honest” answers to questions.

She told the Home Affairs Select Committee that she felt “bullied,” She also said she “felt intimidated by an adviser to the panel.”

"And I made a complaint about the fact that I felt he was overstepping his mark, in terms of that advice and rewriting of letters, because I feel the independence of the panel is important.”

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Emmerson responded to the accusations by saying she had behaved unprofessionally and disclosed private information. He called the claims of bullying “entirely baseless.”

"The effective operation of any public inquiry requires that panel members are able to hold full and frank discussions in confidence, and take collective responsibility for their decisions.”

"This is reflected in the terms of their appointment, which provide that the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information is a breach of contract justifying immediate termination.”

"Sharon Evans has repeatedly disclosed confidential information in public and has made a number of factually misleading public statements.”

He called the information leaks “serious violations” of the duties of a panel member, and said they “undermine the integrity of the inquiry and the confidence of victims and survivors.”

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"It was my clear duty as counsel to the inquiry to bring these breaches to the attention of the panel and the Home Office. I also pointed them out clearly to Ms Evans herself on a number of occasions, and it was this which led her to accuse me of bullying her,” he added.

The Home Office refuted claims Emmerson had bullied the women, saying the incident had been investigated.

"During her appearance before the Home Affairs Committee today, Sharon Evans said she had made a complaint to the Home Office about Ben Emmerson's conduct,” a spokesperson said.

"The Home Office can confirm that this complaint was investigated and no evidence of bullying was found. The Home Office has complete confidence in Ben Emmerson QC as counsel to the inquiry."

Home Secretary Theresa May, who commissioned the inquiry, is expected to make an announcement about the future of the inquiry this week.