Millie Martin: Social services under the spotlight

Social services in the Western Trust are under the spotlight yet again following the brutal death of little Millie Martin.

It is understood the 15-month-old, believed to have been sexually assaulted as well as beaten in the hours before she died, was known to Social Services in Co Fermanagh before her death.

The Western Health and Social Care Trust last night insisted the murdered child was not on its ‘at risk’ register but declined to comment on reports that the child was known to its social workers.

A spokesman would not comment on reports that an initial assessment of the child had been made and that a ‘gateway team’ had been sent out to her home.

The gateway team is the first point of contact in child safety alerts. They determine whether a child is at risk of harm and whether ongoing social work is required.

The baby’s death came in a week when the Trust has faced strong criticism over its handling of convicted sex offender Arthur McElhill before he killed his partner and their five children in a house fire in Omagh in 2007.

Despite being known to the criminal and care authorities since 1993, systemic failures and poor communication meant McElhill, a depressed drunk with a history of violence and suicidal tendencies, slipped through the net time and again.

McElhill, a 36-year-old farm labourer, had several convictions for sex attacks on young girls and was in a relationship with an underage girl when he killed his family in November 2007. He set fire to his home in Lammy Crescent, killing himself, his partner Lorraine McGovern (29) and their five children, aged between 10 months and 13-years-old.

The tragedy sent shockwaves across Northern Ireland and highlighted major issues relating to the monitoring of sex offenders and their risk assessments, as well as demonstrating deficiencies in how statutory agencies communicate their records.

An independent report published by Henry Toner QC in July criticised the way information was communicated within disciplines of the Western Trust and other agencies, and the assessment of potential risks posed by McElhill to teenage girls by reason of his sex offences.

Although the Toner report made it clear the authorities could never have predicted the horror that was about to unfold, it made 63 recommendations for improvements and Mr Toner has been asked to verify they have now been implemented.