SENIOR Conservative MSP Bill Aitken has stepped down as the convener of Holyrood's justice committee following a bitter row about comments he was reported to have made about rape.
Mr Aitken spoke of his "frustration" and "anger" as he announced the decision to resign, as he faced a parliamentary motion condemning comments made after the recent gang rape of a woman in Glasgow.
The decision of the veteran Tory MSP, who has opted not to stand for re-election to Holyrood, was yesterday described as a "highly unfortunate" end to a "distinguished political career".
It was also suggested last night that he has stepped down to avoid "dragging the Tory leadership" into the row.
Mr Aitken issued a statement that reiterated an "unreserved apology" over comments he had made regarding the rape on 11 February in Renfrew Lane, which is being investigated by police.
A former JP and Glasgow councillor, Mr Aitken is reported to have said that the lane was "an area where a lot of the hookers take their clients", although he added "that may not have happened in this case".
Mr Aitken said he had been "unfairly" misrepresented in the row, that saw Glasgow Green MSP Patrick Harvie lodge a Holyrood motion demanding that the Tory resign as justice committee convener.
Mr Aitken, who conceded he had left himself "open to misrepresentation" in his comments about the rape case, said: "I am standing down as convener of the justice committee.
"I do so with a mixture of emotions: frustration at allowing myself to be misrepresented; anger at being misrepresented and remorse to rape victims and their loved ones for any hurt they feel, but also in the hope my true views can now be heard.
"In all my years as a city councillor, a JP and an MSP, I have spoken out against criminals and spoken up for victims of crime. That will not change in retirement. I will continue to battle for justice for all."
Mr Aitken went on to say in the statement issued last night that rape was "an abhorrent, vile violation".
• Profile: Distinguished political career
Robert Brown, the Liberal Democrats' justice spokesman at Holyrood, praised Mr Aitken's contribution as convener of the committee, but described the Tory's comments on the rape case as "ill-advised".
Mr Brown said: "It's highly unfortunate that Bill Aitken's distinguished political career should end in this way as a result of badly chosen and ill-advised comments.
"He has been an excellent convener of the justice committee. However, it is important that no rape victim feels in any way that their rights would not be fully and totally upheld and defended by the parliament and parliamentarians."
But Mr Harvie, who lodged the motion to oust Mr Aitken from the role, described the Tory's statement as "graceless".
He continued: "It was inevitable that Bill Aitken would have to go before he dragged the Tory leadership down with him."Sadly, his statement today is graceless, to say the least, and suggests he still does not understand the offence he has caused."