Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Victims in 80s speak to abuse panel

Norah Gibbons revealed people aged from their 30s to their 80s have come forward to speak to a probe into alleged abuse

Pensioners in their 80s are among those who have outlined claims of childhood abuse to the inquiry examining mistreatment in residential homes throughout Northern Ireland.

At the other end of the age spectrum, people in their 30s have also come forward and spoken to the inquiry's acknowledgement forum panel, member Norah Gibbons revealed.

Older former residents of children's homes would not have been able to tell their stories if the original terms of the region's historical abuse investigation had not been redrawn last year to extend the start date of the time period covered from 1945 to 1922.

Ms Gibbons, who worked on the Ryan Commission into child abuse in the Republic of Ireland, is one of four experts who make up the forum panel. They are the first point of contact for anyone who wants to relay their experiences to the inquiry.

Almost 90 people have been interviewed so far in the private consultations, with around the same number set for appointments. Those who come forward can limit their engagement with the inquiry to just the forum, or decide to progress and give evidence to the inquiry's lawyers in the public phase of the investigation. Four out of every five interviewed have signalled a willingness to go before an inquiry hearing.

"Our role is to listen carefully and to hear what people want to tell us about their experiences," Ms Gibbons said of the acknowledgement forum.

"People when they come in may be upset, may be distressed, they may find going back into their past very difficult, so our job is to make that as easy as we can for them."

She said it was important that participants felt in control of what was happening.

"We have spoken to people in their 80s and we have spoken to people in their 40s and some people in their late 30s, so we have spoken to a range of people covering a range of institutions and locations where institutions were, and a range of different types of institutions," she said.

"So we are beginning to get, I do stress beginning to get, a picture of what perhaps life was like at different times in different places as experienced by the people who have come in."

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