Muckamore Abbey scandal ‘screaming out’ for public inquiry

Police are investigating more than 300 allegations of mistreatment at Muckamore Abbey Hospital
Police are investigating more than 300 allegations of mistreatment at Muckamore Abbey Hospital
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The father of one of the patients at the centre of a major criminal probe into allegations of abuse at Muckamore Abbey Hospital has said the scandal is “screaming for a public inquiry”.

Glynn Brown was speaking after the Department of Health said it was “not in the public interest” to order an inquiry into the scandal surrounding the Co Antrim hospital for patients with severe learning and mental disabilities.

Police have been carrying out a huge criminal investigation into more than 300 allegations patients were mistreated by staff at Muckamore since September 2017.

The probe involves a team of PSNI detectives poring over hundreds of thousands of hours of CCTV footage with assistance from the National Crime Agency.

Families have been calling for a public inquiry for some time, and those calls have been backed by every major political party in Northern Ireland.

But the Director of Litigation for the Departmental Solicitor at Stormont, Mona McRoberts, has now written to a solicitor acting on behalf of patients’ families to advise that it is “not in the public interest” to order a judge-led inquiry at present.

In the letter to Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law, which has been seen by the News Letter, Ms McRoberts states that the department “remains deeply concerned about the evidence which has emerged and continues to emerge” about Muckamore Abbey, and states that it will “keep under review” the ongoing police invstigation.

However, the letter states that the department “does not consider that a public inquiry is in the public interest or necessary at this time”.

Mr Brown, however, said that Muckamore Abbey is “screaming for a public inquiry”.

Speaking to the News Letter, Mr Brown said: “Without the cameras in there and the CCTV, a lot of this might never have come out.

“The magnitude of what has gone on – the more they uncover the bigger it gets.

“I am disappointed but not surprised (by the department’s response). Every time there is a call for a public inquiry it is always resisted tooth and nail.”

Ms McKeegan said: “The department is relying on a police investigation that will not consider the systemic failures and on internal investigations carried out by the Belfast Trust which are neither independent nor publicly accessible.

“It is difficult to imagine a more compelling public interest matter than the systemic abuse of vulnerable patients in a mental health facility over a prolonged period of time.”

A DUP MP, meanwhile, has said the scandal at Muckamore Abbey hospital warrants a public inquiry “without question”.

East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson, who tipped off Department of Health officials about allegations of wrongdoing at Muckmore after being contacted by a parent in August 2017, told the News Letter yesterday: “It is without question that it is in the public interest. The only positive aspect of what the department has said is that they are keeping it (a public inquiry) under review.”

“I do believe it should be the secretary of state taking the decision, but to suggest in any way that it is not in the public interest is to misunderstand the entirety of the scandal that is Muckamore.”

He added: “The public deserve and demand to know, not least the families involved.”

In December Mr Robinson wrote to Secretary of State Karen Bradley requesting that she meet with families and health officials. In February, Mrs Bradley said in the House of Commons she would “consider” ordering an inquiry.