Belfast Telegraph

Health chief denies cover-up

By Anne Madden

The health service chief who commissioned the report into allegations of child sex abuse at two Northern Ireland hospitals has hit back at critics that have charged him of a cover-up.

Hugh Connor, the former director of social services at the Eastern Health & Social Services Board (EHSSB) commissioned the so-called Stinson report in 2008 that only became public when it was revealed by The Irish News this week.

Speaking from Killarney last night, Mr Connor, who is now chair of the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland, said he felt he had been "unfairly castigated" over an email he sent about keeping information from the police.

"I absolutely refute the suggestion that there has been a cover-up," he said.

"How could it be a cover-up when I copied several people into that email, including my successor, and suggested to my deputy director to talk to a solicitor?

"It is absurd. I have worked in social services for 38 years and have a reputation of being a man of integrity."

Mr Connor was referring to an email published yesterday in which he advised his deputy director at the time, Marion Reynolds, that "some discrimination" should be used when providing police with information on the claims.

Mr Connor explained that he used the word "discrimination" when he meant "discretion" and that he wanted to provide the police with relevant information.

"I haven't seen the report for three years," he said.

"I believe there was information related to [Nurse X] and information related to other people.

"I was saying that you can't share that in its entirety and if you have any doubts talk to our solicitor. There was nothing secretive."

Asked why the report was kept so confidential that even the Health Minister Edwin Poots was unaware of it, Mr Connor responded: "I couldn't say how the minister did or didn't find out [about the report] but we handled this in the normal way.

"We co-operated fully with the police - this was not something that was in my room that nobody else knew about."

Mr Connor revealed that it was he who commissioned the Stinson review in 2008. He described how a complaint was made by a former patient at Lissue psychiatric unit which was shared with police.

"The police concluded that they could not take the complaint to a prosecution," he said.

"When that happened I commissioned the report on behalf of the EHSSB.

"We asked him (Stinson) to check a number of files to see if there was anything else that suggested criminal activity.

"I have done this job long enough to know that when people make allegations of sexual abuse they have to be taken seriously."

Background

The controversy surrounds a 2009 report into allegations of serious child abuse at Lissue hospital in Lisburn, and Forster Green in Belfast in the 1980s and '90s.

The report was compiled by independent health consultant, Bob Stinson.

One member of staff in particular, known as Nurse X, was at the centre of many allegations of abuse.

Health minister Edwin Poots insisted there was no cover-up but has demanded full information on the investigation.

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