New setback for child sex abuse inquiry as top lawyer 'threatens to quit'

The national inquiry into child sexual abuse could be facing another serious blow after reports claimed its most senior lawyer is considering resigning.

Ben Emmerson QC, who is counsel to the inquiry, is said to disagree with chairwoman Alexis Jay about its future.

His departure would represent a fresh setback for the probe, which has been beset by problems since it was first launched by then home secretary Theresa May in 2014.

A spokeswoman for the inquiry said Mr Emmerson has not resigned. Mr Emmerson said: "I am not making any comment at this time."

He is thought to favour a restructuring to reduce the inquiry's workload, according to The Times. 

Earlier this month, Professor Jay - the inquiry's fourth chairwoman - admitted its scale and scope were a "substantial challenge". However, she insisted she has "no intention" of asking Home Secretary Amber Rudd to "revise or reduce our terms of reference".

Ms Rudd has told MPs she thought "the terms of reference that were set up originally were the right ones".

The scale of the sweeping probe has increasingly come under the spotlight. Described as the most ambitious public inquiry ever launched in England and Wales, it is running a string of investigative strands spanning several decades.

It was initially earmarked to last for five years but there have been suggestions it could run for as long as a decade.

Following her resignation, former chairwoman Dame Lowell Goddard said there was an "inherent problem" in the inquiry's "sheer scale and size".

The inquiry spent £14.7 million out of a £17.9 million budget in 2015/16.

Mr Emmerson, who represented the widow of Alexander Litvinenko at the inquiry into the death of the poisoned spy, is a deputy High Court judge and leading international lawyer. 

Announcing his appointment in 2014, Mrs May described Mr Emmerson as "one of the UK's most distinguished lawyers in the field of national and international human rights law".

Prof Jay, who previously led an inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, was appointed as chairwoman following Dame Lowell's resignation.