Up to 150 men may have been involved in the grooming of vulnerable youngsters from care homes in Northern Ireland.
PSNI detectives together with health service and other professionals have been piecing together what may be the biggest ‘sexual grooming’ exploitation of children in Northern Ireland since the Kincora scandal of the 1970s.
Many of the men under investigation for exploiting the vulnerable children are in their 20s it is understood, although some are older, including one suspect in his early sixties.
Most of those allegedly groomed for sexual purposes are girls although informed sources indicate that one or two boys may also have been exploited and harmed.
On Friday Health Minister Edwin Poots announced the major child sexual exploitation investigation involving at least 22 young alleged victims.
The PSNI’s investigation has been running for 18 months and centres around the grooming and exploitation of vulnerable children who were approached and encouraged to leave schools, and residential and foster homes by men, many of whom were in their early 20s.
The Justice Minister David Ford is expected to attend tomorrow’s special joint meeting of the Assembly’s Justice and Health Committees which will discuss the police investigation into the sexual exploitation of some of our most vulnerable teenagers.
A senior PSNI officer involved in the 18 month investigation is expected to accompany the Justice Minister to the meeting to give a more detailed briefing on what they have uncovered.
It’s understood that some of the young people targeted by the groomers are as young as 13-years-old but sources point out that there is no evidence as yet that one single gang or group of men is responsible for the predatory sexual attacks on the teenagers.
“It isn’t one single big child sex ring, it is more complicated than that and it’s not clear how so many men became involved in this,” one informed source said.
“Most of the men are in their early 20s which may suggest that they passed children around after they had exploited them.
“These children were in different forms of care and there is a multi- agency approach to the investigation.
“It is a shocking tale, something akin to the Savile scandal in England although different in many aspects, but there are many men suspected of involvement in this,” one informed source said.
In a statement on Friday Stormont Justice Committee Chairman Paul Givan said that it was gravely disturbing that such acts against children had taken place here. The Lagan Valley DUP MLA said that he hoped that those who exploited the children would be brought to justice.
“The public will be deeply concerned at this development and need to hear from the authorities as to what has happened.
“I am glad that both the Health and Justice Ministers have agreed to attend the Committee. The joint meeting will also be an opportunity to probe what actions are being taken to investigate and bring to justice those responsible,” he said.