Northern Ireland

Ian Elliott may sue Catholic bishop over child protection report

Bishop Noel Treanor
Image caption Bishop Noel Treanor could face legal action from a man who, until recently, led the Catholic Church's internal child protection watchdog, the National Board of Safeguarding Children

The former head of a child protection watchdog may sue a Catholic bishop over a report that praised safeguarding practices within the bishop's diocese.

Ian Elliott, who retired from the National Board of Safeguarding Children (NBSC) last July, is considering legal action against Bishop Noel Treanor.

The bishop leads the Diocese of Down and Connor in Northern Ireland.

Mr Elliott disagrees with the December 2013 report and claims it omitted a serious clerical child abuse case.

'Excellent result'

His is considering a law suit because he believes the diocese tried to link his name to the report's findings after his retirement from the NBSC.

The NBSC report stated that between 2009 and 2013, Bishop Treanor's diocese had complied "fully" with 46 of 48 criteria considered necessary for good child protection practice.

It concluded: "This is an excellent result and indicates the very successful and effective investment of time and resources by the Diocese of Down and Connor in its child safeguarding services over the last five years."

However, Mr Elliott has challenged its conclusions, saying they "do not reflect the findings from the fieldwork" which was undertaken in May 2013.

He has alleged that a serious child abuse case involving a former priest in Down and Connor was omitted from the report and therefore it did not accurately reflect the child protection situation in the diocese.

Abuse allegations

He said he raised concerns about child protection with Bishop Treanor last May, just days after he began carrying out investigations within the Diocese of Down and Connor.

Mr Elliott has claimed he made the bishop and NBSC chairman, John Morgan, "directly aware" of his concerns about the diocese at the time.

Last month, Mr Elliott met the Irish Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, to discuss his rejection of the final NBSC report.

The NBSC is the internal watchdog body set up by the Catholic Church in Ireland, in response to years of scandal over the Catholic hierarchy's handling of clerical child sex abuse allegations.

Comprehensive audit

Mr Elliott was the founding chief executive of the organisation and is largely credited with transforming the Irish church's child protection policies and its response to sex abuse.

The final NBSC report was published more than five months after Mr Elliott retired.

The December 2013 document was part of an comprehensive NBSC audit of child protection policies across all Catholic Church authorities on the island of Ireland.

The diocese of Down and Connor is the second largest in Ireland and covers most of counties Antrim and Down.

The NBSC's audit stated that abuse allegations were made against 42 Down and Connor priests over a 38-year period from 1975 to 2013.

The report went on to say that 14 allegations made against priests in the five-year period since the appointment of Bishop Treanor in 2008 had been properly managed.

On Friday, Bishop Treanor, issued a statement in response to Mr Elliott's allegations.

"The Down and Connor report was undertaken and prepared by the National Board team, including independent professional reviewers. Any questions regarding its contents and integrity should be referred to the National Board," he said.

'Integrity'

"I wish to assure all and society at large that in the matter of safeguarding, the diocese of Down and Connor is fully open, transparent and engages fully with the National Board and the statutory sector and will continue to do so," Bishop Treanor added.

In a separate statement, the NBSC said Mr Elliott's allegations "appear to question the professionalism and integrity of our board, our CEO and our staff".

"Consequently we are seeking legal advice regarding our options and will make no further comment at this time."

Before he was appointed to lead the NBSC in May 2007, Mr Elliott worked in Northern Ireland as head of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Children (NSPCC) in Northern Ireland.

He led a major reform programme for Northern Ireland's child protection services.

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