Northern Ireland

Abuse victims' group says it's 'too late' for apologies over major data breach

Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law. Picture by Mal McCann
Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law. Picture by Mal McCann Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law. Picture by Mal McCann

THE interim advocate for institutional abuse victims has said he has no plans to resign despite losing the confidence of the largest victims' group over a major data breach.

Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia) called on Brendan McAllister to stand down yesterday after the identities of more than 250 victims were circulated in an email sent by his office on Friday.

Some of those identified include victims and survivors who are suffering from serious psychiatric issues and others whose families do not know they were abused.

READ MORE: Institutional abuse victims to sue after their identities were exposed in major data breachOpens in new window ]

A group of victims have instructed solicitor Claire McKeegan, of Phoenix Law, who represents the majority of abuse survivors, to sue for compensation in the High Court over the breach.

Ms McKeegan has also written to the head of the civil service, David Sterling, to ask how the breach happened.

"We are extremely concerned at how such a breach relating to the personal details of victims and survivors could have taken place if appropriate data protection measures were in place," the letter read.

"You will be aware that many of the survivors and victims who we represent and who sought the support of the Interim Advocate have never shared their stories of childhood experiences of abuse in institutions with anyone prior to making that contact.

"They do this with the expectation that an office bearing a public appointment is suitably equipped to store private information and to communicate with some of the most vulnerable in our society in an appropriate way which should not compromise their identities and confidentiality."

Interim victims' advocate Brendan McAllister. Picture by Hugh Russell
Interim victims' advocate Brendan McAllister. Picture by Hugh Russell Interim victims' advocate Brendan McAllister. Picture by Hugh Russell

The letter also highlighted concerns that, in a later email, Mr McAllister advised victims that he would answer their concerns about the data breach when his office re-opens today following the bank holiday.

"We, together with our clients have spent much of the weekend taking frantic calls from distraught survivors and are firmly of the view that the IA (interim advocate's) office should have made itself available to at least explain the issues to survivors and refer them to support services when necessary as we have," Ms McKeegan wrote.

Margaret McGuckin from Savia said it was too late for an apology.

"This is not about excuses. The only action that can pacify victims is for him (Mr McAllister) to resign and have the commissioner proper put in place."

Margaret McGuckin of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia). Picture By Hugh Russell
Margaret McGuckin of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia). Picture By Hugh Russell Margaret McGuckin of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia). Picture By Hugh Russell

The Information Commissioner is investigating the breach.

Mr McAllister apologised and acknowledged that victims' trust "has been compromised".

"We are either talking about human error or technical malfunction - it is not clear to us yet which has happened," he said.

He also rejected claims that his office did not make itself available to victims and survivors over the weekend.

"I will await the outcome of the investigation and then we will take stock of the situation," he said.

"If at the end of that I am found to be in any way culpable then I will consider my situation."