Poots ‘upset’ over lack of prosecutions for alleged abuse

The health minister has said he feels aggrieved that no-one has been prosecuted over alleged child abuse at two former children’s hospitals.

Edwin Poots was speaking to the health committee on leaked documents relating to Lissue House in Lisburn and Forster Green Hospital in Belfast.

A report was leaked to the Irish News in October.

Mr Poots said where there had been evidence of abuse, it had been passed to the police.

“We have not been in a position where we could safely bring someone to court and prove beyond all reasonable doubt that they have been engaged in abuse,” he said.

Following complaints about historic abuse from patients at the hospitals in the 1980s and early 1990s, a review was carried out by an independent consultant.

It was completed in 2009 but never published. Its contents were only revealed in 2011 after a leaked copy was given to the Irish News.

On Wednesday, chair of the health committee, Michelle Gildernew, said the documents given to members “made absolutely harrowing reading” and had left her “very shaken”.

Pressed by Ms Gildernew on the question of action against hospital staff, Mr Poots said: ” You’re looking to the wrong people when it comes to prosecution because our task has been to collate the information.”

Mr Poots outlined the Cabinet Office inquiry that had been set up last month to find the staff member who had leaked the information to the press.

He said it was not a question of “whistleblowing” as confidential information appeared to have been removed from HSE files.

Michelle Gildernew said she supported the person who leaked the information, if it had not been dealt with in an appropriate manner by the authorities.

Meanwhile, the Health and Social Care Board (HSBC) has given more details of its investigation into the potential theft of documents at both hospitals.

The investigating team have visited Northern Ireland on a number of occasions since the investigation commenced.

Board chief executive Mr John Compton said it was essential that the public was assured that the board is taking all “appropriate steps to safeguard the information it holds”.

“This investigation is solely about potential theft – it isn’t and never was about a hunt for whistle-blowers, as some have claimed.

“The board has a very effective whistle-blowing policy and encourages staff who have concerns to raise them through this policy.

“However, there is a material difference between a person raising concerns and physically removing a confidential document.”

The investigating team is to submit a further report to the HSCB by the end of January. It is expected that the investigation will be concluded in early February.