Belfast Telegraph

Home Office admits Northern Ireland safeguarding records destroyed

Dozens of safeguarding records from Northern Ireland have been destroyed, the Home Office said.

A total of 64 files on people seeking work with the vulnerable or children were scrapped between 2010 and 2013 because of data protection legislation - breaking an understanding with the departments of health and education in Belfast that the information be preserved, according to minister Karen Bradley.

Some material in a further 18 documents was destroyed and another two lost.

In all cases where files were disposed of, the Stormont authorities had already made decisions whether to bar individuals from jobs where they might pose a risk to the vulnerable. Only two people had been prohibited.

The UK's Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse and the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland have been informed of the breaches, the Home Office said.

Ms Bradley said: "While it is extremely regrettable that these files have been destroyed I can, however, assure the House (of Commons) that the disposal of this information does not present a safeguarding risk to the public."

In April the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which screens those applying for work with children, in healthcare or for fostering or adopting children, told the Home Office information it held on behalf of a number of Northern Ireland government departments had been destroyed.

The minister added: "The bulk of this action was undertaken as part of routine data management procedures by the service's predecessor organisation, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), to ensure compliance with data protection legislation.

"The disposal of the information was, however, in contravention of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the ISA and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Northern Ireland, and the Department of Education, Northern Ireland.

"The MoU was developed in preparation for the ISA taking over responsibility for barring services for Northern Ireland from March 2009 and specified that the files were on loan to the ISA and that information was not to be destroyed."

The service has conducted a comprehensive internal review to establish the number of files affected. An independent review was carried out by consultants.

In total 826 case files were loaned by the Northern Ireland authorities, 404 related to individuals who had previously been barred and 422 involved decisions not to bar.

A total of 64 were destroyed, 62 by the ISA and two by the DBS. Some information in a further 18 was scrapped and two remained unaccounted for.

In all cases the authorities in Northern Ireland had made decisions before the files were loaned. In 62 the people had not been barred and in two they had. The ISA reviewed the two barred cases and decided they should not be transferred on to new lists under revised legislation.

All cases will be reviewed if new information comes to light. In files where some information was lost it was not material to the case, according to the DBS.

It is attempting to locate the two unaccounted for files. Originally neither person had been barred but in one case further information came to light and the ISA decided to impose a prohibition.

A spokeswoman for the education and health department said: "The Home Office has advised that the disposal of this information does not present a safeguarding risk to the public."

They liaised with the DBS, the Home Office and Northern Ireland's abuse inquiry.

The consultants' report raised concern around incomplete receipts for files received from Northern Ireland and photocopies of files which the barring service asserted was from files returned to Northern Ireland.

It said reasonable steps must be carried out to limit the risk to the public of the affected individuals so they are not involved in services which they are barred from. That could include searching a TNT storage facility.

It expressed concern about the general management of the Northern Ireland files, like inconsistency of identifying reference numbers, the number of duplicated reference numbers and use of photocopies.

"We also found issues with the management of the paper files by both DBS and Northern Ireland as markings had been made on the cover of the files which contained sensitive information.

"Phase two of our review will widen our focus on the case file management process for England and Wales in addition to Northern Ireland and we will raise relevant issues in that report."

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