Legislation covering sex offenders discussed

New laws to deal with sex offenders who are mentally unfit to stand trial is under discussion, the health minister has said.

Michael McGimpsey was responding to criticism of the current system from people abused by four brothers in the County Fermanagh village of Donagh.

Between them they faced 61 charges of abusing young children in Donagh over a period of more than 30 years.

There is anger that two of the brothers are back living in the community.

Mr McGimpsey described the case of the McDermott brothers as shocking.

Last Friday, John Michael McDermott, 60, of Moorlough Road, Donagh, was sentenced for 35 charges of sexually abusing children over 30 years.

He was jailed for nine years and given three years probation. His most serious crime was the rape of a boy.

His two brothers, James, 61, and Owen Roe McDermott, 52, from Moorlough Road, Donagh, were found to have committed a number of sex attacks – but they were declared mentally unfit to stand trial.

They were given lifetime sexual offences prevention orders and were banned from schools and playgrounds in the village and from having access to anyone aged under 16.

Victims’ anger

However, the two brothers deemed unfit for trial have been allowed to return to Donagh – to the anger of their victims.

They are critical of the fact that the two brothers who were mentally unfit to stand trial can only be subjected to a supervision and treatment order for a maximum of two years.

Such an order, which is used to protect the public and facilitate rehabilitation, cannot be extended beyond the two year period.

The victims said: “While the judge has acted within the restraints of the law there should be a review of mental health legislation where those having mental health issues could be kept in a half way house under 24 hour supervision.

“At the moment those with such issues are using this loophole in the law to escape justice.”

Independent social work consultant Marcella Leonard said now that the courts had agreed the McDermott brothers committed the offences, protection could be put in place.

“Once somebody gets convicted of a sexual offence, a process starts from the Public Protection arrangements of NI and that cannot start until the person is convicted,” she said.

Ms Leonard said police public protection units and the probation service could now become involved.

“Part of the benefits of the Sexual Offence Prevention Order is that restrictions can now be put in place,” she said.

The health minister said in other parts of the UK this matter is covered by criminal justice legislation rather than under health legislation and he said his department would discuss options for new laws with the Department of Justice.