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Highly vulnerable child remanded in custody as no beds available in secure unit

Dungannon Court

A judge has taken the unusual step of remanding a child in custody after being left with no option due to the danger she poses and no bed available in a secure unit.

Dungannon Magistrates’ Court heard the child, who cannot be identified due to her age, resides in a care facility but is “out of control” and has begun encouraging other children there to offend.

She has been reporting missing almost 100 times in less than two years and is described as “highly vulnerable and at risk of sexual exploitation”.

The child is on bail for allegedly breaking into an off-licence on May 5 and stealing alcohol.

Her conditions include an alcohol ban and a curfew, but on the evening of 13 May, she contacted police on the 999 system, stating she couldn’t get home in time and when located, was intoxicated.

A police officer told the court: “This is a complex case and opposing bail for a child is not something we take lightly, but our hands are tied.”

He explained more cases are pending and the day before the alleged burglary, the child grabbed a member of staff by the hair and punched her in the face.

This year alone there have been three reported assaults on staff and from the beginning of May she has absconded seven times – four of those since the burglary.

The officer said: “We have very genuine concerns around risk of harm (child) is presenting to herself. Psychiatric assistance is in place, but she refuses point blank to engage. She undertakes reckless behaviour and is enticing other younger children into offending. This behaviour has escalated beyond control. Care staff find her very difficult to manage and have no power to keep her in or detain her.”

Since January 2020 she has been reporting missing 96 times.

Although the child has met the criteria for secure accommodation, there are currently no beds available.

When told she would be moving, the child indicated she would go on “a wrecking spree”.

She has serious alcohol issues and there are prior reports of intoxication, as well as one incident in which she was suspected of taking drugs, but care staff “had no powers to carry out a search”.

A defence solicitor stressed bail should be granted stating: “Issues around the care situation are for the Health Trust to address in terms of their provision and obligations. The criminal justice process should not be engaged due to apparent difficulties securing appropriate accommodation.”

District Judge Michael Ranaghan remarked: “Everything is overridden by the need to keep this child safe. The authorities can do nothing to protect her welfare. Any child who goes out drinking is automatically at risk of sexual exploitation. They are not in a position to protect themselves.”

Acknowledging he “may be on very shaky ground” the judge refused bail.

He concluded: “I’m told she is using other younger children residing in care to assist her offending, putting them at risk also. Sometimes we have to make decisions which are purely in the best interests of the child.”

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