Community police to encourage victims of institutions for women to come forward

Thousands of women and girls in Northern Ireland spent time in mother and baby homes, Magdalen Laundries and industrial schools over the last century.

Mother and baby homes report
Mother and baby homes report

Police have started a programme of community outreach to speak with victims of historical institutions for women.

Thousands of women and girls in Northern Ireland spent time in mother and baby homes, Magdalen Laundries and industrial schools over the last century.

Last year, a major academic research report was published outlining the scale of mistreatment endured in the institutions, the last of which closed in the 1990s.

An investigation into allegations of abuse is under way, while a public inquiry is expected to take place in the future.

PSNI Neighbourhood police officers are briefed on the investigation into allegations of abuse at former institutions for women (Rebecca Black/PA)

Police have so far received 57 reports, including from mothers who have never met their children

The PSNI has now tasked neighbourhood officers to engage with the community groups in the areas they work with to spread the word about the investigation.

Adele Johnstone, from Birth Mothers and their Children for Justice, has urged others who spent time in institutions to come forward and speak to police.

The Armagh woman was adopted from a mother and baby home, and also spent time at the Marianvale Home in Newry as a teenager.

“I’m an adoptee, I’m also a birth mother, so I would like people to come forward and speak to the PSNI, and to also engage with the truth and recovery process,” she said.

“A lot of people have been shamed and stigmatised for years, and it has been done by the institutions, by the government of the day, by social workers.

“It’s a big burden of shame and pain that these people are carrying, but to come out and speak about it, hopefully it would help them, and if there is criminality to be prosecuted I am 100% behind it.

“For myself personally, the criminal investigation isn’t a big issue for me, it’s more to bring peace and justice for what happened to us in the institutions.

“A lot of the girls and women were very young girls, they were children, and it is time this was addressed and brought out into the public domain.

“It haunted me all my life. As far as I am concerned, I lived a life of lies, I told lies all my life because I didn’t want people to know the truth about where I came from, my adoption, my pregnancy, my child, and I lived with that all my life until the last few years when I got involved with Birth Mothers and their Children for Justice.

“I have found it very cathartic – I have found my voice and I really and truly hope that if I can help one person come forward and get peace and justice, that’s all I want out of life.”

Detective Inspector Jenny Smith and Detective Superintendent Gary Reid.
Detective Inspector Jenny Smith and Detective Superintendent Gary Reid (Rebecca Black/PA)

Detective Superintendent Gary Reid is leading a full-time investigation team into the institutions which is supplemented by analysts and other specialist resources when required.

“When we first launched our investigation we used have used the more traditional types of media, this is the next phase, trying to get out into community groups to people who maybe wouldn’t access their news through those particular mediums,” he said.

“It’s not for us to speculate why some haven’t come forward yet, there are probably a lot of reasons for that, all I can say is that when they do we have a team of detectives who are specialists in this area and they will be treated with respect, dignity and sensitivity.”

The dedicated Mother and Baby Institutions, Work Houses and Magdalene Laundries Investigative Team can be emailed at MotherBabyHomes.Magdalenelaundries@psni.police.uk.

There is also a direct line telephone number which operates from Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm on 028 9090 1728.

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