Muckamore Abbey abuse probe: Parties back calls for public inquiry

Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Co Antrim is subject to a major police investigation into abuse of patients
Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Co Antrim is subject to a major police investigation into abuse of patients

Families’ calls for a public inquiry into the abuse of disabled patients at a specialist hospital in Co Antrim have been backed by politicians.

Calls for an inquiry into the abuse of patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital have been backed by the DUP, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.

A major criminal investigation into the hospital, an inpatient facility for adults with severe mental health problems and severe learning disabilities, has been ongoing for some time but has yet to result in any charges being brought forward.

Police, with the assistance of the National Crime Agency, are believed to be reviewing thousands of hours of CCTV footage, which is said to show patients being badly mistreated by staff.

At least 13 staff members have been suspended by the Belfast Trust, who have repeatedly apologised to families.

The father of a patient at Muckamore told the News Letter that senior police had privately admitted the alleged abuse is worse than the Winterbourne View scandal that shocked the UK in 2011.

That scandal, which emerged when the BBC broadcast shocking images of patients with severe learning disabilities being mistreated, resulted in multiple prosecutions, the closure of the home, and several major government investigations.

The parent, who requested anonymity, said: “After Winterbourne, there were MPs calling for an inquiry straight away. We need a full public inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened, how it was allowed to happen, and how it was dealt with. We’ve seen with RHI how important that is.”

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said: “I and the SDLP will support the families regardless. Obviously the focus is on Muckamore but perhaps a public inquiry should go wider – into care right across the North. People need confidence that problems are being addressed.”

A DUP spokesperson said: “Had concerns not been raised with the Department of Health then the trust’s initial dismissal may have not been probed further. That alone needs further exploration.

“We will continue to support the families of those who have suffered so terribly, including if appropriate through a public inquiry.”

DUP MLA Jim Wells, a former health minister, said: “If we’re having an inquiry it must not drag on. It must be a short, sharp inquiry which reports back quickly.”

Sinn Fein MLA Colm Gildernew said: “Unfortunately, Muckamore is not a unique case. Notwithstanding the high standard of care being delivered across the health and social care service, instances of failure to protect vulnerable people – such as those in Dunmurry Manor Care Home – is sadly becoming a recurrent theme. A public inquiry is needed to identify the systemic failures.”

UUP health spokesperson Roy Beggs said: “If we had a health minister in place they would have to hold senior health managers to account and then to consider whether a public inquiry would be required.”