Northern Ireland

Donagh child abuse case becoming 'a search for blame'

James McDermott and Owen-Roe McDermott
Image caption The McDermott brothers were deemed mentally unfit to stand trial

The controversy surrounding the case of two paedophile brothers is becoming "a search to find someone on whom to label blame", a DUP MLA has claimed.

Justice Committee Chairman, Lord Morrow, rejected claims by the Western Health Trust over how the brothers were allowed to return to Donagh.

James and Owen Roe McDermott were deemed mentally unfit to stand trial for abusing children in the village.

Lord Morrow said the trust should have had approved accommodation on standby.

Refering to conflicting accounts offered by state authorities in recent weeks, the chairman said: "Last week the justice committee were told, after much questioning, that an administrative error was behind the problem.

"Less than an hour after that the justice minister changed the wording of the proffered explanation.

"Clearly no-one knew what exactly was going on," he said.

'No authority'

Lord Morrow added that, having read the judgement in the McDermott case, it was "clear these men came under the remit of Social Services through the Western Trust".

"A named supervising officer was, under the terms of the order, to decide where these men were to reside.

"We now hear this trust is claiming they had the power to approve or disapprove of accommodation but had no authority to move the McDermott brothers."

Lord Morrow asked what was the point of the trust being able to approve or disapprove a situation laid down by court order if they could not enforce it.

He also accused health officials of not doing enough in advance of the court hearing.

"Having been involved in the assessment of these men for judgement, Social Services must have known the way this case was heading and should have taken steps to ensure approved accommodation was on standby."

'Highly unusual'

The chairman pointed out a section within the judgement which stated provision within the order could be amended at a Magistrates Court.

"On evaluating the risks why then did Social Services not go to Magistrates Court for affirmation on the unsuitability of the residence?" he asked.

On Thursday - in a highly unusual move - the office of the most senior judge in Northern Ireland wrote to the justice minister to clarify the judgement made in the Donagh child sex abuse case.

The lord chief justice said the trial judge had asked professionals from the Western Health Trust for their advice on where best to place the brothers before he made his ruling.

The judge took evidence specifically on the point that the men would stay at their house in the County Fermanagh village, where they had lived since their arrest in July 2008.

A consultant psychiatrist from the trust told the court that a management plan had been prepared to enable the defendants to be supervised in the community with arrangements made for treatment.

'Persistent'

The Chief Executive of the Western Health Trust, Elaine Way, maintained that while health professionals had given evidence, they did not make the final decision.

She said that "at the end of the day the law says the judge should determine where the brothers live".

Between them, four McDermott brothers, from Moorlough Road in Donagh, faced 60 charges of abuse.

John McDermott was jailed for nine years in June for his role in the abuse, which was described as frequent, regular and persistent.

Peter Paul McDermott took his own life during his trial on abuse charges involving two young boys.

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