A decision not to jail a man who beat his children with a belt, has damaged the campaign against child abuse, south Tyrone MLA, Lord Morrow has claimed.
On Friday, at Dungannon Magistrates Court, the man who cannot be named to protect the identity of his children, was given a combined probation and community service order after he admitted charges of child cruelty by wilful ill-treatment and assault in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health.
The court had heard that the matter which dates back to 2012, came to police attention after an anonymous call from a concerned member of the public was made to the NSPCC.
It was also disclosed that injuries to the man’s son were noticed by a classroom assistant in his primary school.
Lord Morrow says he has written to the Minister for Health calling for an investigation into the handling of the case.
He said he had been following the case closely, which he described at ‘disturbing’.
“To say I am stunned by the leniency of the sentence would be an understatement,” said the DUP man.
“There is no deterrent in the outcome and the message that child abuse will not be tolerated is very much diluted.
“I am also deeply perturbed by the length of time taken from the initial indicator of an issue – namely facial injuries and the child’s disclosure of abuse – to eventual action.
“It was some four months since one of the children first presented with injuries until positive action was instigated.
“The initial decision taken by the school not to do anything other than keep an eye on the situation is highly questionable. Given the injuries noted, and the disclosure by the child of how they occurred, that is grossly unacceptable and very concerning.
“I have submitted a written question to the Minister for Education seeking the current policies and procedures in this respect and how they differed from those in 2012.”
Lord Morrow, questioned why it was left to a concerned witness to report the plight of the children.
“The NSPCC were contacted and they in turn alerted police, and action finally commenced. The abuse had continued and opportunities were clearly missed.
“These children made a number of pleas for help. It appears they were ignored. It is heart-breaking to know they endured additional months in fear and pain when steps could have been taken earlier.”
Neil Anderson, NSPCC Head of Services in Northern Ireland said it was right that the father has been convicted.
“It is unacceptable for young children to be harmed by those who care for them.
“This case shows that it’s imperative that adults concerned about a child’s welfare do ask hard questions if there are any doubts about any injuries.
“This is especially important in cases where the victim is too young to speak out and their only hope lies with those in positions of authority.
“It also underscores the need to educate parents about appropriate discipline for their children and we would encourage parents who feel they are losing control with their children to seek support from professionals or even friends.
Mr Anderson added: “Child abuse is completely unacceptable and we would urge neighbours, relatives and friends to be the eyes and ears which protect a child.
Anyone who has concerns should contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 where our trained, experienced counsellors will be able to help.”.