Abuse “could and should have been prevented” – NI historical inquiry finds

One order have apologised unreservedly to former residents

Abuse “could and should have been prevented” – NI historical inquiry finds

File photo of former Kincora Boys Home in Belfast | image: Niall Carson PA Wire/PA Images

An inquiry has found widespread abuse at a series of children's homes run by the church and charities in Northern Ireland.

Anthony Hart has been revealing conclusions from his four-year review.

He was tasked to report on allegations of historic abuse and neglect at 22 care facilities in Northern Ireland over 75 years up until 1995.

Hundreds of victims gave evidence and statements over thousands of hours of public hearings.

It also heard from others who said they were abused in homes run by an order of Catholic nuns and brothers.

The inquiry finished hearing evidence with an investigation into an alleged paedophile ring that operated at the notorious Kincora Boys' Home in east Belfast.

The independent expert panel heard details about the activities of Fr Brendan Smyth- a serial child molester who frequented Catholic residential homes and was convicted of more than 100 child abuse charges.

Speaking to Q Radio, victim and campaigner Margret McGuckin says it is a big moment in her life.

"It's been a long and hard campaign", she said. "I'm looking forward to hearing the truth and to be vindicated. I'll never give up until we see justice being done for all of our people.

"We want an apology. We want to tell the world finally that we have been believed."

Fr Brendan Smyth (centre) leaves a Dublin court in 1997 | File photo | Image: RollingNews.ie

Mr Hart says authorities in Belfast were guilty of a "catalogue of failures" and a proper investigation might have spared many victims.

He is now expecting those authorities to say sorry and to mean it.

“The apology should be a whole-hearted, and unconditional recognition that they failed to protect children from abuse that could and should have been prevented or detected”, he said.

The Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd said: "Twelve former residents came forward to relate their experiences of being in our care, of which eleven came within the Inquiry’s terms of reference, and of which then proceeded within the module.

“Two other former residents came forward to share positive experiences of being cared for by the Sisters.

“We have listened to their accounts with respect and we are grateful to them for their courage in sharing their experiences.

“Since our establishment in Northern Ireland over 150 years ago, many people have been supported and assisted by the Congregation.

“Children and teenagers were placed by family or State authorities with the Good Shepherd Sisters for all sorts of complex reasons, and some of these complexities are outlined in the report.

“As the report highlights, the Congregation had a policy of not turning people away. This occasionally led to children being cared for in institutions which were not specifically child-focused or designed to cater for the needs of children.

“We apologise unreservedly to those former residents whose care fell short of what they needed and deserved.”

Police failings

While the head of the PSNI’s Department of Legacy and Justice, Mark Hamilton, said: “The PSNI will take time to read the report in full and consider any learning from it however I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sir Anthony Hart and the panel for their hard work and commitment to this.

“We co-operated fully with the Inquiry, including declassifying tens of thousands of documents, to help ensure the panel could conduct a thorough examination of relevant material, and as such, we welcome today’s report and fully accept the findings.

“I apologise unreservedly for the police failings that have been identified within this report. I acknowledge that there were a number of occasions when a thorough police investigation could and should have been brought about which may have prevented more children from becoming victims.

“I also regret that we did not show the same rigour that we brought to the investigation in 1980 which led to three people being charged with offences relating to Kincora, brought before the court and convicted in 1981.

“At that time the RUC, like other UK police services, had no specialist units or officers trained in investigating child abuse however, I would reassure everyone that our approach to dealing with child abuse has since changed radically, in line with best practice in modern policing.

“Today, we have specially trained officers within the PSNI’s Public Protection Branch who work closely with our partner agencies on a daily basis to ensure a joined up approach to dealing with allegations of child abuse. This multi-agency approach is based on information sharing and joint police/ social care working which allows the agencies to effectively and promptly safeguard victims and potential victims.”