Chairman's Statement

Statement by MR JOHN O’HARA QC, Chairman

Thursday 18 November 2004

I am honoured to accept my appointment by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to conduct this Inquiry into the events surrounding and following the deaths of the three young children, Adam Strain, Lucy Crawford and Raychel Ferguson.

The Terms of Reference of the Inquiry which have been published today are very broad and I believe they will enable me to look at all the issues which need to be examined. It is important to note that apart from the specific Terms of Reference, I have been given a general discretion to examine and report on any other relevant matters which arise.

I know that some concern has already been expressed that the Inquiry is not being conducted by someone from outside Northern Ireland. I want to emphasise my own independence from the Department and from those individuals and public bodies whose conduct will be examined. But I also want to make the point that as one who lives in Northern Ireland I have an obvious interest in an effective and efficient public health service. I have no interest whatever in protecting from criticism any individual or body which has been incompetent, inefficient or worse.

I have been promised by the Department that I will have access to all the support and expertise which is necessary to conduct this Inquiry. A dedicated Inquiry Team has been established which will operate from offices in Adelaide Street, Belfast. I will obviously need expert advice which I will obtain from outside Northern Ireland. A number of names have already been suggested and I am confident that I will have access to impartial experts whose input will be essential.

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Powers of the Inquiry

It is important to remember that inquests have already been held into the deaths of Adam, Lucy and Raychel. It is not my intention to rerun those inquests – that would be a waste of public time and money. However I will have access to the coroner’s records so that it will be possible to use the evidence which emerged at the inquests as one of the starting points of the Inquiry.

I am aware that questions have already been asked about whether the Inquiry will be held in public and whether legal representation will be available. I have some discretion as to how the Inquiry will be conducted and I will issue a paper in the coming weeks to interested parties setting out my detailed preliminary proposals. They will then have an opportunity to put forward different views before the procedure is finalised. It is likely the procedure will include the following:

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The Terms of Reference require me to report by 1 June 2005 or such other date as may be agreed with the Department. I will do everything I can to complete my work within that period. At this stage however it is not possible to predict exactly what issues will emerge in the months ahead. I am aware, eg, that there is an ongoing police investigation into various concerns arising from the death of Lucy Crawford. There is a possibility that that investigation will have an impact on the progress which I am able to make with the Inquiry. I understand however that I have an obligation to the families involved and also to many other individuals and bodies to conduct and complete the Inquiry as efficiently and speedily as possible. I will do everything I can to meet that obligation.


Representatives of the 3 families were kind enough to meet me this morning. I am grateful to them for taking the time and trouble at very short notice to make these meetings possible. Their concerns are obvious. They believe that their children’s lives could and should have been saved. They believe that they have been misled and obstructed in their efforts to find out what happened. They also have reservations about my independence, about the independence of this Inquiry and about the procedures which I will follow.

I do not know and I have no view at this time on whether they are right or wrong to hold those beliefs or the extent to which they are right or wrong. The families accept that this is and must be my position. I have tried to reassure them about my independence and I hope that they will cooperate with me and my team. I will however consider their points. The question of procedures has already been outlined in this statement and will be dealt with the way in which I have set out at paragraph 7.

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