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Pupils' documents left in attic by former education service worker

14-03-2008

Pupils' documents left in attic by former education service worker
12/03/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

Sensitive files outlining the medical histories of scores of schoolchildren were left lying for years in the attic of a former education service worker, it was revealed yesterday.

The disclosure by education minister Caitriona Ruane in the assembly yesterday comes after The Irish News reported last month that confidential files containing personal details of 120 pupils were found at a roadside close to a south Armagh dump.

Admissions to a psychiatric institution and prosecutions for non-attendance at school were also contained in the Education Welfare Service notes.

Ms Ruane faced questions about the dumping of the documents at the assembly yesterday.

"It is clearly unacceptable that sensitive material of this kind remained in the possession of an individual who left the service many years ago and have been stored in a dwelling place," she said.

The material related to the period between 1965 and 1974.

It was found in Camlough close to a dump after the owner cleared out the attic.

The former welfare service employee left in 1989.

"At the time it was customary for welfare officers to work from home but officers leaving the service were expected to return all files and documentation to the senior education welfare officer for the area," Ms Ruane said.

"That clearly didn't happen in this case."

Police and the Southern Education and Library Board have investigated.

The chief education welfare officer contacted previous members of the welfare service to confirm that they do not hold any Southern Education and Library Board documents.

Ms Ruane also criticised SDLP assembly member Dominic Bradley, who was passed the documents by a resident.

Mr Bradley brought them to the attention of The Irish News as a matter of public interest.

"Elected representatives have questions to answer in relation to these concerns that documents were passed to the media," Ms Ruane said.

Mr Bradley did return them to the board and they have since been destroyed.

"I think the public has the right to know how confidential files are stored or neglected and public representatives like me have a duty to tell them while maintaining confidentiality, which is exactly what happened in this case," he said.

He said email correspondence involving a separate case being pursued by a former staff member against an education and library board went missing and was not available when requested.

An IT expert was brought in to help recover that.

He called for an independent review of storage and security of information across all the boards.

"I am not aware of emails going mysteriously missing," Ms Ruane said.

"It is more important at this moment that we deal with the issue in hand."

 

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