The most senior lawyer on the public inquiry into institutional child abuse in England and Wales has been suspended and placed under investigation amid concerns over aspects of his leadership. Ben Emmerson QC has been viewed as a "rare figure of stability" in the inquiry which has seen three chairs quit their positions since it was set up in 2014.

In a surprise move, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse issued a statement on Wednesday 28 September, just a day after media reports that Emmerson was expected to submit his resignation shortly, purportedly over disagreements on the remit of the inquiry under its fourth chair Alexis Jay.

The statement from the independent inquiry on the human rights lawyer read: "The inquiry has recently become very concerned about aspects of Mr Emmerson's leadership of the counsel team. He has therefore been suspended from duty so that these can be properly investigated."

"Suggestions in the press that Mr Emmerson was considering resigning after raising disagreements over the future direction of the inquiry are untrue. They are not a matter on which he has advised the chair or panel," the statement said.

The inquiry, tagged as one of the most ambitious to be undertaken, is an open-ended process to examine abuse in institutions in England and Wales dating back to at least 60 years. It was set up by then Home Office secretary Theresa May in 2014. And since then three chairwomen have resigned.

Baroness Butler-Sloss, the first chair and Dame Fiona Woolf, the second, both stepped down after their links to figures potentially implicated in the inquiry's work was highlighted. And only in August, New Zealand judge Justice Lowell Goddard quit after reports that she had spent three months of her first year on the job either on holiday or overseas, notably in her native New Zealand.

Goddard had later said that the inquiry should have been reformed, noting that it was facing a "legacy of failure which has been very hard to shake off." She had suggested that the inquiry's remit should focus on how to protect children now and in the future rather than on the detailed past abuse investigation.

But the new chair Jay has stated categorically that despite the fact that the inquiry's "scale and scope are a substantial challenge," she did not plan to ask the government to limit the terms of reference.

Home Office committed to inquiry

Theresa May
UK Prime Minister Theresa May set up the sex abuse inquiry when she was Home Secretary. Nick Ansell

Current Home Secretary Amber Rudd made it clear, according to The Times, that the government backed Jay. "Our commitment to this inquiry is undiminished," she said.

The Home Office said: "We owe it to victims and survivors to confront the appalling reality of how children were let down by the very people who were charged to protect them and to learn from the mistakes of the past."

Further, Rudd's spokeswoman said that the terms of reference and scope of the inquiry, which were set by the home secretary in consultation with its chairwoman would not be changed.

Emmerson says will respond appropriately

Ben Emmerson QC
Ben Emmerson QC, pictured here in 2013, is reportedly unhappy at the scale and size of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Getty

Meanwhile, Emmerson's lawyers said that their client had read about his suspension on the internet. "If, and when, allegations are put to him, he will respond appropriately," the Guardian reports.

An inquiry spokeswoman also declined to give details on why the high profile lawyer had been suspended and what allegations were made against him.