Northern Ireland news

Muckamore 'ill treatment' allegations double to 300, police say

Muckamore Abbey Hospital is at centre of the biggest criminal adult safeguarding investigation of its kind in Northern Ireland. Picture by Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

DETECTIVES are now investigating 300 allegations of "ill treatment" as part of a massive abuse probe into Muckamore Abbey Hospital - almost double the figure since January.

The senior PSNI officer heading up the probe confirmed the figure and said she was "very conscious" of the "trauma and impact" on families who have raised concerns about its slow pace and lack of arrests.

The criminal investigation into the Co Antrim facility began in September 2017. A total of 19 staff - mainly nurses - have been suspended by the Belfast health trust.

Read More: Trust boss holds hands up over 'deficient' response to father of Muckamore patient

Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie said a specialist police team is still trawling through 240,000 of CCTV footage from the hospital, where healthcare professionals are alleged to have physically assaulted adult patients with severe learning disabilities.

Families of Muckamore patients have expressed frustration at the lack of prosecutions

Read More: Muckamore father goes public for first time as pressure for public inquiry mounts

Acts of cruelty and neglect have also been reportedly captured on cameras in Muckamore wards - which staff didn't realise were switched on.

The lead detective said: "I understand their (the families) frustration and it may be of small comfort to them at this very difficult time, but I would like to reassure them and the public that we are working through every single report and every minute of CCTV footage to bring anyone guilty of any criminal offences before the courts.

Read More: Timeline of Muckamore abuse investigation

"From the outset we have been committed to working closely with families, with the aim of keeping them as informed as much as we possibly can and we will continue to do so."

Read More: Trade union representing Muckamore nurses backs calls for independent inquiry

Relatvies of Muckamore patients have repeatedly pointed to the speed of prosecutions in the Winterbourne View home scandal in Bristol, where six care workers were jailed within a year of an undercover Panorama reporter secretly filming abuse of vulnerable adults in 2011.

A team of four officers from the PSNI's Public Protection Branch were initially deployed to the probe after major concerns emerged in August 2017 about patients suffering harm in the hospital's Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

However, the team was doubled to eight in recent months as they started viewing footage from other wards.

Read More: Head of Belfast Trust speaks out on Muckamore scandal - 18 months after investigation launched

In late January, police searched the homes of eight nursing staff linked to the case and seized mobile phones from properties in Co Antrim and Co Down. At that point, there were 158 incidents being probed by police.

In a statement to The Irish News, Detective Chief Inspector Duffie said they may increase the size of the team assigned to Muckamore.

"This has been and continues to be an extremely complex investigation that involves 300 allegations of ill treatment and hundreds of thousands of hours of CCTV footage," she said.

Read More: Muckamore families welcome police searches but concern about length of investigation

"As the scale of our investigation has increased, so too has the size of our specialist team of detectives. We keep the resourcing of the team under constant review and we may allocate additional resources in future as the investigation develops.

"The protection of our most vulnerable is a priority for the Police Service of Northern Ireland."

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