Donations to Scottish charities could be damaged by the Oxfam sex scandal, and public trust could be hard hit, according to an expert on the third sector.

John Downie, policy director at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said revelations about the international aid charity would affect not just other charities doing overseas development work, but the sector as a whole.

However he said that Oxfam and other aid charities did “fantastic” work and had been let down by a small minority who had exploited vulnerable people.

“This is an appalling situation and Oxfam has handled it very badly,” he said.

“I think it will have a devastating effect across the sector. The relationship between charities and the public is entirely based on the trust that an organisation will take their donations and do the right thing with it.”

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Last year Scots gave over £800 million to charity, but such sums could be at risk if public confident falters, he said.

“This doesn’t just affect Oxfam, or just international development charities. It is the whole sector.”

SCVO, the umbrella group for Scotland’s charities, is hosting its annual Gathering in Glasgow next week and will publish the results of its latest survey of trust in Scottish charities.

The results of the research – carried out at the end of last year – are expected to show that public confidence remains high. But all charities should review their codes of conduct for employees and look at their policies for disclosure and safeguarding, Mr Downie said, if that is to be maintained.

“The onus will be on Scottish charities to redouble their efforts to maintain public trust,” he said.

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Codes of conduct are not the only answer, though, he said. “Oxfam is one of the biggest names in the sector and the codes of conduct were there. But people decided to abuse and exploit vulnerable adults and younger children and there was a failure to deal with that.”

“Oxfam was more concerned about the charity’s reputation than the people who were exploited.

“Their own staff were telling them there was something wrong, but they didn’t have enough trust and belief in what their workers were saying to act on it.”

The charity’s senior management team has been criticised for its approach but questions should also be asked of its trustees, Mr Downie said.

“The 2011/12 report which was brought to them talked only about misconduct, not the sexual element. What were they thinking? They need to be taking a hard look at themselves.”

Oxfam workers in Haiti have been accused of paying prostitutes and holding ‘Caligula-style’ orgies, with participants allegedly including under-age girls, in Haiti, in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake there.

It is also alleged that the charity knew about concerns over the behaviour of Oxfam’s country director for Haiti, Roland van Hauwermeiren, in a previous posting in Chad.

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The charity says it isn’t possible to confirm all the allegations but has apologised for failure to adequately act on concerns, while Oxfam’s deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence has resigned and the charity has promised to change its policies.

However the UK Government is to review the status of public funding for Oxfam in the wake of the charity’s “unreserved” apology. International development secretary Penny Mordaunt said a decision will not be taken “hastily”.