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Stormont now probing historical abuse victims data breach

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Advocate: Brendan McAllister

Advocate: Brendan McAllister

Advocate: Brendan McAllister

A Stormont department is investigating a data breach that led to hundreds of victims of historical institutional abuse having their identities exposed.

The names and emails of 250 survivors were revealed in a newsletter circulated by the HIA (Historical Institutional Abuse) interim advocate's office last Friday.

The breach has led to calls for the resignation of the interim advocate Brendan McAllister, who has said he will not quit.

Yesterday First Minister Arlene Foster told the Assembly her "thoughts are very much with those who have been affected by this highly regrettable incident".

"The Deputy First Minister and I fully recognise the impact that it will have on victims and survivors," she said.

"The Executive Office has been in close contact with the interim advocate's office over this incident, which the interim advocate's office has formally reported to the Information Commissioner's Office.

"The interim advocate's office has notified and apologised to everyone who received the email.

"The interim advocate has made arrangements for further independent support to be made available to those affected through the WAVE Trauma Centre and its counsellors, and a number of people have taken that up over the weekend.

"That is in addition to the existing support services that are available through Lifeline and Advice NI. The Executive Office has asked the group head of internal audit in the Department of Finance to undertake an investigation, and that will begin immediately."

Mrs Foster had been responding to an urgent question from TUV leader Jim Allister.

The North Antrim MLA said that when the victims "discovered that their privacy was so spectacularly breached by their supposed advocate, it created a trauma that many of them are finding very, very difficult".

He added: "In circumstances where the interim advocate and his office were the culprits, they clearly cannot advocate for the victims on this issue.

"Does not that in itself underscore that the interim advocate's position is untenable and that he should be relieved of his office because he has long since lost the confidence of many of the victims?

"Indeed, the major group that speaks for most of the victims has disengaged from contact with him. Is this not the last straw for the interim advocate?"

Mrs Foster said she agreed that "these victims in particular have more to fear from data breaches than anyone else".

"And that is why, as well as the Information Commissioner beginning an investigation, which, of course, is independent and will take its course, we have set about a fact-finding investigation through the Department of Finance," she said.

"We have received the terms of reference for that, and we hope very much that that will give us the facts in a very fast way and, I hope, within just a number of days. As you have heard from the interim advocate, he has said that, if he is found to be culpable, of course he will consider his position. I think that the Member will agree with me that it is right that we do go through due process in all these matters and that we do get independent fact-finding brought to the office."

Belfast Telegraph