Belfast Telegraph

Couple who left children to go on holiday reunited with them

By Adrian Rutherford

Four young children have been reunited with the parents who abandoned them at home while they went on holiday.

Neighbours raised the alarm after the children were left on their own in their Dungannon home for several days.

One of the children is just five years old. The other three are aged 14, 10 and seven.

Police visited the property and contacted social services, who have since launched an investigation into the incident.

The PSNI have described the case as "shocking and serious".

A source close to the investigation confirmed the parents had returned and have been reunited with their children.

The matter is still being investigated by social services and the PSNI, however it is understood the parents have not been arrested. A spokesman for the PSNI said: "No arrests have been made but a police investigation is under way."

The Southern Trust declined to comment on the developments when contacted yesterday.

A spokesperson reiterated that social services have intervened and that "appropriate action" has been taken.

The identity of the family concerned cannot be revealed for legal reasons.

When the Belfast Telegraph visited Dungannon last week, neighbours spoke of their shock and disbelief at the case.

One parent who spoke to this newspaper said she was aware of other cases where children were left alone for periods of time.

Currently there is no legal age limit for leaving a child on their own, but the case has prompted calls for families to be given clear guidelines.

Hilary Carmichael, a leading family lawyer, said parents need to be more aware of the risks they take when leaving children alone.

"There seems to be a general notion in Northern Ireland that 14 is a suitable age to babysit, and clearly the parents in Dungannon seem to have had the same idea," she said.

"Somebody needs to take responsibility and send a very clear message out there that this can't happen.

"The Executive or social services need to step in and provide guidelines, because the law does not tell us if it is right or acceptable to leave a 14-year-old in charge of other children."

The head of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, Neil Anderson, said incidents of children being left alone for lengthy periods were not common.

"We don't hear about this every day at all," he said. "It is very, very rare to hear about a story like this in Northern Ireland."

Background

There is no legal age limit for leaving a child on their own, but it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk. Parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised "in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health".

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