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Data breach at HIA Advocate’s Office down to ‘procedural error’

An investigation was launched earlier this year following a data breach which led to hundreds of victims having their identities revealed.

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Brendan McAllister has been serving as the HIA Interim Advocate (Paul Faith/PA)

Brendan McAllister has been serving as the HIA Interim Advocate (Paul Faith/PA)

Brendan McAllister has been serving as the HIA Interim Advocate (Paul Faith/PA)

A data breach at the office of the Interim Victims’ Advocate has been attributed to a “procedural error”.

An investigation was launched after it emerged that the names and emails of 250 survivors were revealed in a newsletter circulated by the HIA (Historical Institutional Abuse) Interim Advocate’s Office in May.

The Group Internal Audit and Fraud Investigation Service was tasked by the Executive Office to carry out an independent investigation into the incident.

The investigation report described it as a “deeply regrettable incident which had a significant impact on victims and survivors”.

The investigation concluded that the data breach was attributable to procedural error.

A total of nine recommendations have been made to prevent a repeat of this incident and to improve data protection and information management arrangements within the Interim Advocate’s Office.

In a statement the Executive Office said these are “being taken forward as a matter of urgency”.

It has addressed concerns that have been raised since the data breach occurred, and enables my colleagues to implement a small number of specific recommendationsBrendan McAllister

Brendan McAllister has been serving as interim advocate for survivors of historical institutional abuse since 2019 after previously serving as a victims’ commissioner.

He welcomed the “speedy conclusion” of the investigation.

“It has addressed concerns that have been raised since the data breach occurred, and enables my colleagues to implement a small number of specific recommendations which should serve to reassure the people we are here to serve,” he said.

Mr McAllister added that he would be in touch with all of those affected by the data breach to inform them of the steps that have been taken.

The matter has also been notified to the Information Commissioner’s Office, which will conduct its own investigation separately.

Earlier this month, Mr McAllister was criticised by some historical abuse victims after assisting in a Catholic church service.

Margaret McGuckin of the victim group SAVIA (Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse) claimed it was a “conflict of interests”, however Jon McCourt of Survivors North West said he had no concerns about the matter.

Mr McAllister then said the leaders of all five HIA victims groups were aware of his church role, adding that he is preparing for future ministry in the church.

PA