Historical Institutional Abuse: Survivors identified in 'massive' email error
May. 23, 2020
The identities of 250 survivors of historical institutional abuse in NI have been revealed through an emailing error, the BBC has learned.
It happened when a monthly newsletter was sent on Friday without the names of recipients being anonymised.
The email was signed by a staff member but sent on behalf of Interim Victims' Commissioner Brendan McAllister.
A victim's solicitor described it as an "outrageous breach of confidence" which has traumatised some of those named.
Some of the individuals had been part of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry and had chosen to remain anonymous.
The HIA inquiry had investigated historical allegations of child abuse at 22 residential institutions run by religious, charitable and state organisations across Northern Ireland in a 73-year period.
It had recommended that all victims of institutional abuse should receive tax-free, lump sum payments ranging from £7,500 to £100,000 from a government-funded redress scheme.
The BBC has seen a copy of the original email, which was sent out to people who had engaged with the HIA.
One survivor told the BBC that many people had taken part in the HIA inquiry because their privacy was guaranteed; some were described as being in "absolute hysterics" at what had happened.
The survivor said it had "completely blown people's cover" and that she was "extremely annoyed and upset".
Mr McAllister confirmed to the BBC that the email was sent with 250 recipients' addresses visible.
He said the email was sent on his behalf but he takes full responsibility for it and he has already referred the matter to the information commissioner.
It is understood a letter of apology has already been sent out to the group by Mr McAllister.
Solicitor Claire McKeegan, who represents some of the survivors, told the BBC: "These traumatised people had turned to the commissioner for help, however, this is now a massive and outrageous breach of confidence.
"Some of those named have not even told family members that they are survivors of historic institutional abuse. They feel completely violated."