Sex abuse of 22 young people outside NI care system suspected

Joint session of Stormont health and justice committees to discuss child exploitation

The PSNI believes it has identified more than 20 young people who may have suffered sexual exploitation after they went missing from care since early last year.

A major investigation has been launched by detectives after a review was carried out in the North following two wide-scale abuse inquiries in England. They believe about 22 young persons "may be at risk" from a group or groups of men outside the care home system.

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.”

A special joint session of the Stormont Assembly committees dealing with health and justice is scheduled to be held on Monday. It is understood senior police officers will also be present along with Minister for Health Edwin Poots and Minister for Justice David Ford.

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.”