Page last updated at 12:38 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 13:38 UK

'Failings' in Omagh fire deaths

McElhill family home

There were "failings on the part of the health and social services" in the case of a family who died in a house fire in Omagh, the health minister has said.

Michael McGimpsey was speaking after an independent report said the authorities involved with the family could not have known what was about to happen.

Arthur McElhill, Lorraine McGovern and their five children died in the blaze.

Mr McElhill, a registered sex offender, was suspected of starting the fire in November 2007.

The report, by Henry Toner QC, did cite deficiencies in how agencies communicated his record and made 63 recommendations.

The family all died in the fire

The report criticised how information was communicated within disciplines of the Western Health and Social Care Trust and other agencies and the assessment of potential risks posed by Arthur McElhill to teenage girls by reason of his sex offences.

Police told social workers Mr McElhill had convictions for sexually assaulting teenage girls, even though the information was in their own files - had anyone looked it up.

Social services then removed a teenage child from the house - she was a friend of the eldest daughter Caroline - and had been staying there.

Subsequent meetings of social workers to discuss this teenage child were not told of Arthur McElhill's offences, and no-one assessed the risk to the other children still living in the house.

In a statement Ms McGovern's family welcomed the report and said they hoped the recommendations are "fully implemented".

"We hope that no family ever has to endure what we have endured since November 2007," they said.

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Mr McGimpsey said the events of last November were "terrible".

"This report has some 63 recommendations aimed at all agencies involved in supporting and protecting children and families," he said

"While the report concludes there is no evidence that anyone working with the family could have known the fire would happen, there is absolutely no doubt that there were failings on the part of health and social services."

The minister said all the recommendations would be implemented and that child protections services across Northern Ireland would also be inspected.

"Protecting children and ensuring families in distress have every help and support is a key priority for me and I will ensure that the recommendations in this review are implemented without delay," he said.

Children's Commissioner Patricia Lewsley said the failure between professionals to communicate the risks to the McElhill children was "horrifying", and that a cry for help from the eldest child, Caroline - who called police about her parents having a row a month before the tragedy - had been silenced by inaction.

Monitoring

She noted there are still more than 300 cases of children and young people who have not been allocated a social work team by the Western Health and Social Care Trust.

The Trust said it welcomed the report's finding that the agencies involved had no indication that a tragic event was going to occur.

It said it was taking immediate action to implement the most pressing recommendations, and promised to cut the number of unallocated social work cases.

A report on MASRAM, which monitors sex offenders, said it would be wrong to conclude there were "material deficiencies in inter-agency co-operation in relation to McElhill".

It said that it had to be borne in mind that McElhill did not commit any further sexual offences after 1996 when he was subject to inter-agency management, noting that this is of little comfort given the tragic deaths of the family.

The report said the PSNI had properly discharged its duties in monitoring McElhill.

But it said a review should be conducted by Northern Ireland Sex Offender Strategic Management Committee on social care agencies of the inter-relations between MASRAM and child protection arrangements.

This should be directed at ensuring that in cases actually involving or likely to involve children or vulnerable adults social workers are properly informed of relevant issues.




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