Muckamore Abuse Inquiry should begin in autumn, says Robin Swann as chair is annonunced
The public inquiry into allegations patients were abused at Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Co Antrim should be underway by the autumn, Health Minister Robin Swann has said.
Muckamore, a specialist facility in Co Antrim for patients with serious mental health and learning disabilities, has for several years been at the centre of a major criminal investigation into allegations patients were abused by staff.
Police have reviewed hundreds of thousands of hours of CCTV footage from inside the facility as part of their investigation.
There have been more than 20 arrests, and the Public Prosecution Service has announced seven people will face criminal charges — with more still under consideration.
Following a years-long campaign by families, Mr Swann announced his intention to order a public inquiry in September last year.
The establishment of an inquiry into the abuse scandal has now taken a major step forward with the appointment of a chair.
The minister said: “I am pleased to confirm that I have appointed Mr Tom Kark QC as Chair of the Inquiry, with the aim of getting the inquiry fully underway by autumn 2021.”
He continued: “Mr Kark has extensive experience in medical regulation work and public inquiries. This includes having acted as Senior Counsel to the Public Inquiry, under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Francis QC, into the failures at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.”
The Minister continued: “In September 2020 I announced my intention to call a Public Inquiry into Muckamore. At that time I gave a commitment to the families and patients at the very centre of this, that I would bring them along with me. I wanted to ensure that both current and former families and patients would have the opportunity to influence the terms of reference of the inquiry. That is why I asked the Patient Client Council (PCC) to engage with families and patients to give them a platform to have their say.
“I am delighted that progress has been made in pulling together the necessary strands to enable this Inquiry to take place. We can now jointly turn our attention to finalising the terms of reference with the PCC report as a critical guide in this regard.”
In 2019 Mr Kark was instructed by the Minister for Health (England) to examine the working of the Fit and Proper Person test as it was applied to senior executives in the NHS.
Mr Kark has sat as a part time Judge (Recorder) since 1999 and has authorisations to hear Appeal cases from the Magistrates Court, cases involving serious sexual offences and also to sit at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey).
Mr Swann’s announcement came as he unveiled a report prepared by the Patient Client Council (PCC) following a series of engagement events with families and patients of Muckamore. The events were designed to fulfil the Minister’s commitment to keep families and patients at the centre of the development of the terms of reference of the Inquiry.
The engagement events were facilitated by the PCC from December 2020 to February 2021.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said the out-workings of these meetings have been compiled into a report which will be published on the Department’s website today.