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David Ford orders review after sex abuse case blunders

By Deborah McAleese

Justice Minister David Ford has ordered a review of how sex offender cases are dealt with in Northern Ireland after it emerged that his department made a number of clerical errors in the Donagh child sex abuse case.

Mr Ford asked the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice to examine the management of sex offender cases saying the case of the two McDermott brothers has raised questions that have to be resolved.

The move followed an emergency meeting yesterday involving the chairs of the health and justice committees looking into the Donagh child sex abuse case.

It emerged that the justice department made a number of clerical errors, including a sexual offences prevention order — made by a judge to help monitor the brothers while in the community — which wrongly stated it should last for five years when the judge had intended for it to last for life.

In light of this Mr Ford has called for an urgent review to be undertaken of all such orders, which could affect around 300 cases.

The case of brothers James and Owen Roe McDermott, who abused children for 30 years and were allowed to return home to Donagh, Co Fermanagh, after they were deemed unfit to stand trial, caused major controversy.

Mr Ford said it was clear that there had been a distinct lack of clarity around the management of the McDermott case and this had only added to public concern and the distress of the victims.

“It is vital that the public have confidence about the way in which these matters are dealt with and I am determined that lessons are learned by all of the agencies involved,” he added.

Calls have now been made for Mr Ford to apologise to those involved in the Donagh abuse case for the errors in the handling of the case.

Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA Tommy Gallagher said: “The whole sorry episode of the McDermott brothers has been a litany of errors from the beginning.

“The statement from the Justice Minister acknowledging the ‘serious management issues’ in relation to the handling of the case and his stated list of remedial actions is welcome but simply does not go far enough.

“There needs to be a forthright apology from the minister to the victims and all involved in this case for the additional pain and suffering placed upon them by the catalogue of mistakes made by the agencies under his department’s control.”

Mr Ford has directed remedial action including:

  • case records are being corrected and amended orders will be issued;
  • staff will be retrained and more robust monitoring procedures will be implemented;
  • an audit of all sexual offences prevention orders made in Northern Ireland has been initiated and will be completed by mid-October;
  • a review of the administration arrangements for preparing, checking and issuing court orders.


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