18 Jan 2006

THE Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Nigel Williams today said he is extremely worried that people with convictions for sex offences are working in schools in Northern Ireland.

The Commissioner’s remarks come after Education Minister Angela Smith MP revealed that three people with convictions involving a sex offence were working in schools.

“I am extremely worried by the Department of Education’s admission that they are aware of this,” he said. “And I want the Department to now make sure that the exact circumstances of these cases are investigated. No child should be put at risk and I am very concerned that education authorities seem to have relied on judgements made on these individuals 15 years ago. The Soham case demonstrated the importance of being very cautious where employees have any history whatsoever of inappropriate sexual behaviour."

Mr Williams today confirmed that his office will monitor the implementation of the Department of Education’s action plan as a matter of urgency.

“Last year I made recommendations to the Secretary of State to improve vetting systems in Northern Ireland and I believe that there should be no further delay in putting in place the safeguards I proposed.

“I started my review in the wake of the Bichard Review into the tragic deaths in Soham of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman at the hands of Ian Huntley.

“No system of vetting can offer a 100% guarantee that children will be protected, but if my recommendations and the recommendations made by Sir Michael Bichard are put in place, there will be a better system; a system that everyone can have confidence in; and a system that will be transparent.”

Notes to Editors

  • The Department of Education press release is available at http://www.nics.gov.uk/press/edu.htm
  • The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children for Young People "Right to Protection - A Review of Vetting" can be found here
  • The related NICCY press release can be viewed here
  • Further information on the work of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People can be found her on the web site