Edwin Poots defends safeguarding board chairman Hugh Connor

The Health Minister Edwin Poots has defended the chairman of a new child safe-guarding board.

The Irish News reported that Hugh Connor suggested that “some discrimination” should be used when providing police with information from a Trust report into allegations of historic child abuse.

Mr Poots said Mr Connor’s remarks had been taken out of context.

He said it related only to information which was not relevant.

The Irish News was given a confidential email which was written by Mr Connor, who was then director of social services at the former Eastern Health and Social Services Board.

Mr Connor was appointed chair of the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland in July 2011.

The board’s role is to protect the welfare of vulnerable children.

The health minister said it was “somewhat unfortunate” that Mr Connor was being impugned in any way.

“Mr Connor has a very strong record in child care,” he said.

“There is no indication whatsoever in his carer that he has done anything other than give the best possible support to children.

“He has made great efforts to ensure that children are well looked after, and that is why he has got a job in the safeguarding board.

“In terms of the letter (email), it is very clear if you read it within its context and the words ‘with some discrimination on the information being given to the police’ – it relates to information which isn’t relevant.

“Therefore whenever people are trawling through mountains of papers on these issue, the information which does not add anything to the case, that they should use some discrimination about passing that to the police and if they have any doubt, take legal advice on it.

“It wasn’t about withholding information from police, it was about ensuring that the information that the police got was relevant information therefore not to waste the police’s time and ensure that they could more quickly come to the case.”

On Wednesday, the Irish News published details about a report into abuse at two children’s hospitals.

The 2009 review, which was never published, detailed abuse at Lissue Hospital in Lisburn and Forster Green in Belfast in the 1980s and 90s.

Three allegations were made against members of staff over claims that girls aged between eight and 13 were abused.

It was compiled by independent health consultant Bob Stinson and completed in January 2009.

It said that two of the allegations of abuse were referred to police but a third was not because it was made some years after the alleged incident took place and, in the view of the report’s author, was not corroborated.

The report also detailed concerns about children being asked to undress in front of staff.

In 14 cases, children were alleged to have sexually abused other children while staff also allegedly used humiliation to discipline children.

The 11 such cases of humiliation in the report were described by Mr Stinson as “one of the most disturbing elements of the review.”

The review was instigated by the Belfast Trust and the Eastern Health Board after one former patient made a complaint to police.

Mr Poots called the allegations “horrific and appalling”.

“People who have vulnerabilities are people who you want to give as much protection to as possible and if what has been alleged transpires to be true, that has obviously not been the case,” he said.

He insisted that there was no cover-up because health officials had followed the correct procedures by liaising with the police about the allegations.

The PSNI has said it carried out a number of investigations into alleged abuse over a number of years and “where appropriate” files were sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions or in subsequent years to the Public Prosecution Service.