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De La Salle child protection report 'ready in weeks'

By Claire O'Boyle

A report into child protection issues at De La Salle College is expected to be completed within weeks.

The independent review, which will focus on a 2013 visit to the West Belfast school from a Dublin priest and inappropriate sexual conversations he is alleged to have had with three children, was commissioned by the board of governors in January.

Crucially, the report will examine how complaints from three children relating to the same priest, understood to have been made separately in June 2013, September 2014 and March 2015, were handled by school authorities.

The PSNI confirmed that while the first complaint was dealt with in June 2013, two subsequent reports were not received by them until December 2014 and July 2016 respectively - in one case a number of months after the allegation was made, and in the other, more than a year later.

The report will ask if:

√ appropriate steps were taken by school staff to refer the matter to appropriate authorities;

√ there was effective communication with external bodies in relation to the matters raised;

√ there was appropriate communication with pupils and parents;

√ there was appropriate support to affected pupils, and if;

√ appropriate steps were taken to implement safeguards for future arrangements.

The board of governors confirmed its intention to share the "outcome" of the review with parents and teachers.

Kieran McCormick from the Concerned Parents of De La Salle group insisted parents must see the report in its entirety - not just its outcome.

He said: "The reason we are demanding the full report is so that parents can see the details, and to be reassured our children are going to a school where these vital procedures are followed.

"This matter has been a huge worry to all parents and in keeping with the recommendation of transparency from recent investigations we want to see the report in its entirety."

The Belfast Telegraph submitted questions to the PSNI, Social Services, the Diocese of Down and Connor, Council For Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) and the Education Authority relating to the procedures followed and the timeline involved in investigating all three complaints: if and when the complaints were passed to each body, and how and when they were dealt with.

The board of governors said: "As the review and report is not yet complete it would be inappropriate for the board to comment on the potential findings or content of that report. The college has co-operated with and provided assistance to the review panel."

The Diocese of Down and Connor said concerns were passed to statutory bodies, specifically PSNI and social services, although a spokesman would not confirm details of dates.

A statement said: "We can confirm that the diocese has received three concerns of a safeguarding nature relating to an incident in 2013 against a priest from outside of the diocese making a visit to De La Salle College, Belfast. In each case, these safeguarding matters were promptly passed on to the statutory authorities by the Diocesan Safeguarding Office and the diocese was advised that they had been investigated. No further action was recommended by the statutory authorities."

In answer to specific questions about if and when the complaints were raised with social services, a spokesperson said: "It is not the policy of Belfast Trust to comment on individual cases as this would be a breach of confidentiality."

A spokesperson for CCMS said: "CCMS understands the review and report will be completed in the near future. It is not appropriate for CCMS to comment publicly on the potential findings or content of that report while the review is ongoing. CCMS has co-operated with and provided assistance to the Review panel."

PSNI Detective Inspector Trish Higgins said: "In 2013, police were made aware of a concern in relation to an incident at the school. Enquiries were made and no offences were detected, however the PSNI worked with the Diocesan Safeguarding Authorities to ensure effective safeguarding."

A spokesperson for the Education Authority said: "The EA is unable to comment on individual cases."

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