Belfast Telegraph

'Constructive' abuse review urged

Northern Ireland's chief constable has said he would welcome any review into child safeguarding practices in the wake of a major police investigation into child sexual exploitation.

Matt Baggott told the Stormont justice committee he would prefer a "real time peer review" and not a report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate which could take months.

He said: "I would look for practitioners who are at the leading edge to come and work with us to see have we got best practices here.

"I think there should be a constructive review as opposed to one seeking failure. There is a real opportunity here and I do not think it should be missed."

A total of 22 suspected victims, aged between 13 and 18 years old, have been identified and more than 30 people arrested as part of the investigation into potential organised child sexual exploitation in the region.

Most of those targeted lived in residential care homes at the time of incidents but the allegations relate to periods when they were not in the facilities, such as on nights-out when they failed to return.

Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton revealed that 18 of the children had gone missing from care homes 437 times over an 18 month period.

Patsy McGlone of the SDLP said: "It is not rocket science to see there's a problem here."

The Mid Ulster MLA added: "It should be basic common sense. Somebody should be asking 'there's a youngster here who clearly needs to be looked at'."

A team of 12 detectives are currently working on the investigation alongside social workers however, Mr Baggott vowed to commit whatever resources were necessary - despite severe financial pressures on the PSNI.

"Whatever resources they need, they shall have on this," he said.

The police and health authorities have been criticised for failing to act on a report by the charity Barnardo's which flagged up child exploitation as a major problem for Northern Ireland in 2011.

Democratic Unionist Paul Givan, who chairs the scrutiny committee said he was not interested in apportioning blame but wanted to prevent any further exploitation.

"I am not interested in trying to pin this on anybody. I think it is easy journalism and cheap politics if that is the way we go," he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie also defended a comment in which she claimed police resources were being diverted away from child abuse investigations, among others, because of protests and parades.

She said: "Those comments are not blaming one side or the other. It is the reality of the pressure.

"Standing up level two tactical support groups has a consequence."

Yesterday Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots announced the possible appointment of an outside assessor to look at how children in care are protected on the back of the recent revelations about the police abuse probe.

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