The head of the child sex abuse inquiry in Northern Ireland has appealed to current and former workers to come forward with information. Professor Kathleen Marshall acknowledged the plea by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) came despite a formal call for evidence already ending.
She said: “The Inquiry has received a lot of information from voluntary and statutory agencies, including some from frontline workers. However, if the Inquiry is to be fully informed, it is important that everyone with an insight into the issue should feel able to share that information. The Inquiry is therefore inviting anyone who has anything to say about the matter to do so.
“Please be assured that no individual will be identified in the Inquiry report as a source of information without their permission. The usual professional limits to confidentiality apply in respect that the Inquiry would be obliged to pass on to the relevant authorities any information that either suggested that someone was in immediate danger of serious harm or that disclosed a serious criminal offence.”
The former children's commissioner for Scotland asked that a letter to workers and former workers be widely distributed so responses can be gathered by September 30. The Inquiry - commissioned by the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Minister for Justice - will report to Northern Ireland Ministers by November 4.
Amid criticism that the inquiry does not have the full legal powers of a full public inquiry Prof Marshall has said that the inquiry is powerless to compel organisations to answer questions on potential failings within the care system, but she did not envisage anyone failing to co-operate with her team.
Prof Marshall was commissioned by Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots to assess the scope of abuse in the region following the opening of a major police investigation Operation Owl into the suspected exploitation of 22 children, most within the care system.
The inquiry will not focus on alleged victims in the ongoing operation, for which there have now been a number of arrests. The inquiry’s stated aim is in ‘examining the effectiveness of safeguarding and protection arrangements and measures to prevent and tackle exploitation’; and ’Making recommendations on future action needed to prevent the exploitation and who should be responsible for carrying these steps out.’
Prof Marshall said recently: “I am very pleased to have been appointed to lead the inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland. It is a distressing subject, which recent events have shown to be of great public concern. Some excellent work has already been done in Northern Ireland to identify and address the problem, but there is much that we still do not know, and need to know if we are to understand its nature and extent, and take effective steps to tackle it.
Inquiry officials will be holding three focus group sessions for staff from the health sector during mid August. More information can be found on the website: www.cseinquiry.org.uk.