Child 'exploitation' probe launched
Police in Northern Ireland have launched a major child exploitation investigation after identifying a group of 22 potential victims.
It is understood the investigation relates to a number of vulnerable children in care in the region.
Officers launched the probe after a review of incidents over an 18 month period.
A Police Service of Northern Ireland spokesman said: " As part of this review, we have identified a group of 22 young people who may be at risk from child sexual exploitation and are seeking to identify those who may have committed crimes against them."
Police said they could not provide specific details about alleged incidents at this stage.
Detectives are working alongside a team of social workers in what has been described as an "extremely complex" investigation.
Officers have vowed their response will be "victim centred and offender focused".
Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots has been informed of the developments.
"We are working closely with our partner agencies in terms of raising awareness of this issue, identifying any young person who may be at risk and ensuring they are protected," the PSNI spokesman added.
"We would appeal to anyone with any concerns about a child or young person or anyone who is a victim of child sex exploitation to contact the police on 0845 600 8000."
The chair of Stormont's justice committee Paul Givan has called a special joint meeting of the justice and health committees to discuss the investigation.
The Democratic Unionist Lagan Valley Assembly member described the developments as "gravely disturbing".
"The public will be deeply concerned at this development and need to hear from the relevant authorities as to what has happened," he said.
"I am glad that both the Health and (David Ford) 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."
The meeting will take place on Monday.