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Interim victims' advocate Brendan McAllister to 'consider position' after probe into data breach


Brendan McAllister has faced calls to resign (NI Assembly)

Brendan McAllister has faced calls to resign (NI Assembly)

Brendan McAllister has faced calls to resign (NI Assembly)

Northern Ireland's interim Advocate for Victims and Survivors of Historical Institutional Abuse has said he will consider his position if he is found to be at fault for a data breach that saw details of 250 abuse victims leaked.

On Friday, an email was sent from the office of Brendan McAllister that included the details of 250 abuse survivors in error.

The email was in the form of a newsletter, however it did not make the recipients' names anonymous.

Those who received the email were engaged with the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, which investigated allegations of child abuse at 22 residential institutions run by religious, state and charitable organisations between 1922 and 1995.

In the wake of the breach, several victims' groups and politicians have called on Mr McAllister to resign immediately.

TUV leader Jim Allister branded the breach a "catastrophic failure" and said the interim victims' advocate had no option but to step down.

"These are people who were shielded from publicity, now exposed by the very person or office which is supposed to be their advocate," he said.

"It's totally preposterous and I think that there's no honourable way forward but for the interim commissioner to resign."

Speaking to the BBC, Brendan McAllister said the breach has been referred to the Information Commissioner and an investigation is underway, which he will await the outcome of.

"The situation is that there are a number of victims' groups, there are people who have been calling for my resignation and there are others who have been in touch with me to urge me to stay, because they know that the work for victims of historical institutional abuse is at a critical stage," he said.

"There is important work to do in the weeks ahead. Of course I have had to consider my situation and I will continue to do so. I will await the outcome of the investigation and then take stock of the situation."

"My responsibility at this time is to ensure [the victims] that this matter will be fully investigated and, if at the end of that, I am found in any way culpable then I will absolutely consider my situation."

Mr McAllister said it is unclear at this time if the breach was the result of human error or a technical malfunction.

He also rejected suggestions support was not put in place for those affected as soon as the breach came to light.

"We reviewed the situation as quickly as possible and we took all the steps that we could to put the support in place and I am satisfied that that is there," he said.

He said all those whose details were shared were contacted by his office to inform them of the breach and officials liaised with various victims' groups to make arrangements for support to be put in place.

Since the breach occurred of Friday, several of those affected have instructed their solicitors to launch civil claims.

It is understood such claims could amount to some £2.5m, depending on what damage can be shown.

Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law, who represents the group Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia), said many have instructed her firm to issue cases for compensation and an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the incident.

"Many of [the victims] them have never shared their childhood experiences with even their families," she said.

"These people need help and support, so for something like this to happen obviously discourages victims and survivors from reaching out to the services that they so badly need."

Belfast Telegraph