Arrests made as part of NI inquiry into suspected sex ring

Inquiry follows review of cases where young people have gone missing from care system


A number of people have been arrested as part of a major investigation into the sexual exploitation of children and young people in Northern Ireland.

The inquiry follows a PSNI review of cases where young people have gone missing from the care system over the last 18 months.

A total of 22 young people, aged between 13 and 18, may be at risk. Detectives have made arrests, it is understood.

The issue is to be discussed at the Stormont Assembly today.

Health minister Edwin Poots and justice minister David Ford are due to attend a committee meeting. Most of the children were abused when they went missing from care homes.

Mr Poots has insisted his staff will do all in their power to identify perpetrators and to protect children in the care system.

The PSNI believes it has identified 22 young people who may have suffered sexual exploitation after they went missing from care since early last year.

This follows the launch of a major investigation by PSNI detectives after a review was carried out in the North following two widescale abuse inquiries in England.

In a statement they said they were growing “increasingly concerned about the issue of child sexual exploitation following an internal review.

“As part of this review, we have identified a group of 22 young people who may be at risk from child sexual exploitation and are seeking to identify those who may have committed crimes against them.”

Social services staff are understood to be working with the PSNI on the investigation with the support of specialist staff from Barnardos, the children’s charity.

Paul Givan, a DUP Assembly member and chairman of the justice committee, said: “The news that such activity has been taking place is gravely disturbing. The horrors of these crimes leave us only to pray for the victims and work towards ensuring the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

He added: “The public will be deeply concerned at this development and need to hear from the relevant authorities as to what has happened. I am glad that both the health and justice ministers have agreed to attend the committee. The joint meeting will also be an opportunity to probe what actions are being taken to investigate and bring to justice those responsible.”

Nexus, which offers counselling to victims of abuse, said: “It’s a shocking news story”.

Spokeswoman Pam Hunter said: “The whole thing about this crime is that people groom you and entice you with gifts and money and you think you’re walking into this voluntarily, but it is a crime.”

Further announcements of co-operation are expected later today involving the Safeguarding Board of Northern Ireland and the Social Care Board.

Mr Givan said it was believed that a single ring of criminals was involved in the abuse of young people.

“It is important to stress at this stage that there is no evidence at all to suggest that this involves people who work in care homes,” he said.

“These are children who have been exploited not by those providing the care but by those preying on their vulnerability – taking them to parties, plying them with drink, showing them attention, giving them presents – things like that.

“These vulnerable people have then been exploited. Now we need to have this full investigation.”

Additional reporting by PA