Mother and baby home 'must not repeat mistakes of past inquires'

A new group that will help shape an inquiry into mother and baby homes says a lack of prosecutions from the historical abuse inquiry must serve as a lesson.

Research from Amnesty International and Ulster University shows no prosecutions were brought despite nearly 200 complaints to the PSNI.

Amnesty International and Ulster University have launched a series of online events to help and inform survivors of mother and baby homes and Magdalene laundries.

They will take part in the process of shaping an inquiry into the institutions.

Stormont has already commissioned an expert panel to work with survivors to co-design a future probe.

A full public inquiry is among the options available.

The panel was formed after Stormont-commissioned academic research on the institutions laid bare the degrading treatment experienced by thousands of young girls and unmarried women, and their children, who passed through the facilities in Northern Ireland.

Announcing their initiative, Amnesty's Patrick Corrigan and Professor Patricia Lundy of Ulster University highlighted the lack of prosecutions that have resulted from the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

Research published by Professor Lundy in February 2020 noted that 190 criminal complaints were passed to the PSNI following the HIA Inquiry, which reported in 2017, having investigated historical abuse committed at state and church-run children's homes.

The academic said the research, which was based on Freedom of Information requests, established that 77 of those complaints were subsequently passed to the Public Prosecution Service for examination.

Professor Lundy said she was not aware of any of those 77 cases resulting in a decision to prosecute.

"However, we understand that no prosecutions have resulted.

"In designing the inquiry into mother and baby institutions, it will be important to build in a real prospect of criminal prosecution if that is where the evidence points."

Independent experts Professor Phil Scraton, Dr Maeve O'Rourke and senior social worker Deirdre Mahon have been commissioned to work with survivors in the six-month investigation co-design process.

The Amnesty and UU events will see victims and experts from other abuse inquiries in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and internationally, sharing their experiences.

Mr Corrigan said: "Survivors have a right to both truth and justice. Yet despite a 2,300-page report from the HIA Inquiry detailing a litany of crimes and human rights abuses, victims got precious little justice.

"This new series of events will help survivors of mother and baby homes institutions in their work of co-designing the investigation into the abuses they suffered.

"We must not repeat the mistakes of past inquiries."

A PPS spokeswoman said: "The Public Prosecution Service is fully committed to prosecuting allegations of sexual abuse, including those of a historical nature, where there is the evidence to do so and where it is in the public interest.

"In every file received from police, the test for prosecution is applied to establish whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction in court. That can be a high bar to reach and only those cases which meet the test for prosecution can proceed to court.

"The prosecution of historical sexual abuse cases come with many challenges and we understand it is deeply disappointing when a victim is informed a case cannot proceed to court.

"That should not deter any victim from coming forward to report allegations to the police.

Despite the challenges, the lapse of time is no barrier to pursuing a prosecution for a non-recent ordeal.

"Please come forward and report your concerns to police. You will be treated with sensitivity and respect."