Give me a crash course in… the Muckamore scandal – The Irish Times

How did the North’s leading hospital for adults with severe learning disabilities end up at the center of a public inquiry?

Horrific allegations of abuse at Muckamore Abbey Hospital in County Antrim first surfaced in July 2018 when an NHS whistleblower contacted The Irish News and revealed that the management of Health Services was privately watching CCTV footage of nursing staff assaulting vulnerable patients.

People linked to the abuse in a psychiatric intensive care ward were unaware that CCTV cameras were recording.

Footage showed patients being beaten by staff and pulled to the ground by the hair – the whistleblower described it as ‘territory of public inquiry’.

Health authorities went into defense mode and declined to comment on the footage, but admitted 13 staff members had been suspended. (There are now 83 suspensions and seven laid off workers).

More leaks emerged, and within months the families of the patients mounted a campaign for an investigation.

Leading the charge was Glynn Brown, a parent who felt “screwed” after failing to get information about a non-verbal assault on her son. Brown would become key to exposing wrongdoing.

In September 2020, Northern Ireland’s Minister of Health, Robin Swann, ordered a “public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005” into Muckamore’s abuse allegations.

Last Monday, the first public hearings opened in Belfast into what has been described as the worst adult protection scandal since the formation of the NHS.

What is the extent of the police investigation?

A handful of detectives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) were initially assigned to the case.

When a ‘deluge’ of incidents broke out in 2018, a specialist police team was brought in to review 300,000 hours of CCTV footage.

Giving evidence to the inquest on Wednesday, the PSNI confirmed it was now “the largest criminal protection investigation of its kind in the UK”.

Senior Detective Jill Duffie confirmed in 2019 that 1,500 suspected crimes were uncovered in just one neighborhood over a six-month period.

The careful “minute-by-minute” viewing of the images led to the orientation of the police officers towards occupational health support, so great was the distressing nature of the material. Many patients were non-verbal and unable to communicate what had happened.

Police say they expect the viewing to continue into next year.

To date, there have been 34 arrests. Eight people have been charged with a litany of offenses including the willful mistreatment and neglect of patients. They also face false imprisonment and charges of common assault.

How long will the investigation last and what is its scope?

There is a two-year contract for the purpose-built Inquiry Room in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter with an option to renew as hearings can last much longer.

Addressing a packed room of parents and lawyers last Monday morning, inquest chairman Tom Kark QC said his team was tasked ‘to examine what has happened over many decades ” and to “make sure it doesn’t happen again”.

Advisors will be on call throughout the public sessions.

Kark, an English solicitor with nearly 40 years’ experience, insisted patients will be “at the forefront” of the proceedings. His team has the legal authority to review “events” between December 2, 1999 and June 14, 2021.

The role of NHS bodies and those with ‘professional oversight’ will be in the spotlight along with the response of the police and the North’s health watchdog.

Is the hospital still open and how many patients does it have?

Once the “crown jewel” of mental health facilities in the North, the hospital now has just 37 patients in its care.

Muckamore opened in 1949 on a rural site close to the city of Antrim.

In the 1960s, it was considered a model community “in which people with learning disabilities could live happy and fulfilling lives”.

She owned a farm, workshops, staff cabins and even her own cinema.

A care overhaul in the early 1990s led to many patients being discharged into the community to live supported and independent lives, although some remained there for decades.

Apologizing to those caught up in the abuse scandal shortly before Christmas 2018, a senior Department of Health official set a 2019 target to relocate patients to the community, saying ‘no one should have to call Muckamore home “, while adding that the facility would remain an acute care hospital.

Denise W. Whigham