Robin Swann to decide on Muckamore inquiry
THE families of patients at scandal-hit Muckamore Abbey Hospital are still waiting to hear if there will be a full public inquiry into abuse allegations.
A lawyer acting for families of patients at the Co Antrim hospital wrote to health minister Robin Swann following his appointment earlier this month, seeking an "immediate inquiry" into the "quality of safeguarding" at the Co Antrim facility.
Claire McKeegan, of Phoenix Law, said Mr Swann had still not replied to the letter she sent on January 13.
The health minister met the families of some patients on Wednesday night but did not formally commit to a full inquiry.
Ms McKeegan said while he agreed there would need to be some form of investigation, he stopped short of agreeing to a public inquiry which would have the power to compel witnesses and evidence.
She said the "resounding message" from families is that they want a full public inquiry and "anything less would fall short".
"The political parties last year made a commitment to the patients and their families that the public inquiry was in the public interest and gave their written support and asked the permanent secretary to act," she said.
"Without the CCTV footage and the persistence of patients' families in the face of obstruction this situation could have continued, the truth may never have been exposed."
Mr Swann, the former Ulster Unionist leader, was one of five representatives from the north's main political parties who endorsed the establishment of a public inquiry last summer after the Department of Health said at the time it was "not in the public interest" .
In a statement yesterday he said: “I have made clear that patients and families have a right to answers on what went so appallingly wrong at Muckamore. I clearly have a decision to make on establishing the best process to provide these answers.
“My decision has to be an informed one, so I am carefully considering detailed advice on potential options.
“As I have also stated, any process that is put in place will have to take cognisance of the ongoing major PSNI investigation.”
Muckamore hospital is at the centre of the biggest PSNI safeguarding investigation of its kind, with 1,500 suspected crimes related to alleged abuse of vulnerable patients.
A total of 40 staff have been suspended after detectives viewed CCTV footage.
Several people have been arrested, including a 34-year-old man detained on Wednesday morning.
He was later released on police bail pending further enquiries.
Glynn Brown, from Action for Muckamore, told the BBC he was disappointed an inquiry had not been set up.
"We expected that they would be forthright and determined in protecting the most vulnerable, and the people who don't have a voice in society, but apparently there doesn't seem to be the same urgency from the ministers," he said.