PSNI must investigate alleged paedophile ring, says ex-watchdog

Nuala O’Loan calls for action after victims come forward with claims of historic abuse

Former police ombudsman for Northern Ireland Nuala O’Loan: ‘If there is an allegation that a paedophile ring has been operating in Enniskillen then this needs to be investigated.’ File photograph: The Irish Times

Former police ombudsman for Northern Ireland Nuala O’Loan: ‘If there is an allegation that a paedophile ring has been operating in Enniskillen then this needs to be investigated.’ File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Claims of widespread historical sex abuse in Co Fermanagh “require current investigation” by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), according to a former police ombudsman.

The intervention by Nuala O’Loan comes as several victims have come forward in recent weeks alleging they were sexually abused more than 30 years ago, some as a result of a suspected paedophile ring in Enniskillen. But their cases were dropped by the Public Prosecution Service due to “insufficient evidence”.

Ms O’Loan has said the situation, which first came to light as a result of a campaign by newspaper the Impartial Reporter, is “serious” and needs to be investigated.

“It requires current investigation. I don’t think the assumption can be made that this is just historic, it could be going on currently. If there was insufficient evidence in the past it may be that coming forward now police are able to build a bigger picture which may change that earlier decision.”

File picture of David Sullivan, whose body was found in February 2001, a year and five months after he went missing. Photograph: John McVitty/Impartial Reporter
File picture of David Sullivan, whose body was found in February 2001, a year and five months after he went missing. Photograph: John McVitty/Impartial Reporter

With the unsolved murder of bus driver David Sullivan in Fermanagh and his link to a suspected paedophile ring in the county, there are many questions for the authorities about abuse in the 1980s.

“If there is an allegation that a paedophile ring has been operating in Enniskillen then this needs to be investigated,” said Ms O’Loan. “Perpetrators very often abuse on a serial basis. They don’t just abuse one child, there will be other children. It is very important that all victims are identified and their cases are investigated properly. If these perpetrators have done this once it is not impossible that it is happening again.”

Sullivan (51) was found buried in a bog in 2000, a killing that was possibly motivated by revenge. The former school bus driver was responsible for a litany of abuse on young boys.

One of his victims spoke out this week for the first time to reveal how the former Ulsterbus driver had sexually abused him at least 12 times while bringing him to school.

Other victims have talked openly about being subjected to a litany of sex attacks as children by businessmen and professional people in Enniskillen, many of whom are still alive.

The PSNI is coming under significant pressure to explore the incidents and are to be questioned by the Policing Board at its next meeting.

A hearse leaving the scene at Killygreen, Belcoo, in February 2001 where the remains of David Sullivan were discovered. Photograph: John McVitty/Impartial Reporter
A hearse leaving the scene at Killygreen, Belcoo, in February 2001 where the remains of David Sullivan were discovered. Photograph: John McVitty/Impartial Reporter

What happens next?

Chief Constable George Hamilton has taken a direct interest in the case and head of the Public Protection Unit Paula Hilman has pledged to meet with victims.

Sexual abuse survivor Máiría Cahill has said the police should re-examine these cases.

“The public protection unit was set up after my own case collapsed. The PSNI needs to review its previous actions and should now ensure that their practice was correct. If it wasn’t, they should endeavour to get it right this time. This is huge public interest journalism; the police have a responsibility that no stone is left unturned,” she said.

Ms Cahill said it was “deeply concerning” that several victims have come forward to the Impartial Reporter citing a specific time frame and in many cases referring to the same abusers.

“The police’s understanding of cases like this has evolved since the 1980s. Their investigatory knowledge in rape and abuse cases is now much stronger than ever before. But for a number of cases not to have proceeded to prosecution, that is extremely disappointing,” she said.

Former minister for justice David Ford said the allegations are “extremely serious” and “go beyond concerns about one individual”.

“It is always disappointing to victims if their concerns do not meet the test of sufficient evidence for a prosecution. That is why all victims should contact the PSNI, to help build a case against any perpetrators of such sickening abuse, and to protect others in the future,” he said.

Maurice Morrow, a unionist politician and life peer who lives in the constituency, said the allegations “demand a full and thorough investigation by the PSNI. Anyone with any information which may assist police with their inquires should bring it to the PSNI’s attention immediately. The victims must not be abandoned,” he said.