Sex exploitation inquiry updates Stormont

Published Wednesday, 11 December 2013
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The chair of an inquiry into the sexual exploitation and abuse of young people in Northern Ireland says that her investigation will be thorough, despite not having statutory powers.

As exclusively revealed by UTV in September, an investigation was launched after police reviewed a series of cases involving children going missing from the care system.

It is believed numerous criminal gangs are involved and possibly 100 people with 24 alleged victims having been identified.

Police believe the majority of the teenage victims were harmed when they went missing from care homes, at times after being plied with presents, drugs or alcohol at house parties.

Some were living at home and were allegedly exploited after going missing for periods. Many did not realise they were being sexually exploited and still do not view themselves as victims, the police have said.

Since the end of September, a total of 16 arrests have been made and 18 searches conducted at a variety of locations in relation to a range of offences.

A police statement said: "This is in addition to 30 arrests announced previously which resulted in a number of charges.

"A number of items have been removed for examination. Further arrests are anticipated as police inquiries continue."

Stormont's Health Minister Edwin Poots commissioned the independent inquiry into the cases, appointing former commissioner for children in Scotland, Professor Kathleen Marshall as chair.

On Wednesday, she addressed Stormont's health committee.

Prof Marshall said: "Children and young people may be the object of concern with regard to the problem of child sexual exploitation - but they are also the key to the solution.

"They are the experts in their own lives and we need an insight into both the constant and the everchanging dimension of those lives.

"If we are to intervene successfully to prevent and tackle exploitation, I want this to be something where people actually feel more freed up to talk about what is actually happening.

"Where front line workers, young people who have been in difficult situations, parents - are actually able to tell us what's happening - and that doesn't always work best in a rigorous 'question, answer' within a statutory framework where people come to the table defensive."

Sean Holland, a senior official at the Department of Health, confirmed that more abuse cases had been identified.

"There will be people in the future - children and young people - experiencing child exploitation who will never come to the attention of services.

"Some of those will also be in the care system and I don't believe that that automatically indicates that there's been a failure in the work of those who seek to protect the people."

Alliance's Kieran McCarthy told Prof Marshall that a stop needed to put to the sexual exploitation of children immediately.

"Put a stop to this now - not in another two years - now and get the culprits and put them behind bars where they deserve to be.

"That is what your job is now, "he told the inquiry's chairwoman.

The inquiry is expected to deliver its findings next year.

EXTERNAL LINKS / CONTACTS
Information on how to submit evidence to the inquiry can be found on RQIA's website. A child sexual exploitation helpline is also available on 0800 389 1701.
© UTV News
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