Police probe into Muckamore CCTV 'abuse' images still not complete - two years on
DETECTIVES investigating the Muckamore Abbey Hospital abuse scandal have told families it will take another 12 weeks before viewing of CCTV footage of just one ward is complete - almost two years after the probe was first ordered.
A specialist PSNI team has been viewing hour by hour footage of the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) - the secure ward which first sparked the investigation - and recently discovered further incidents of alleged abuse relating to a six-month period between April and September 2017.
The police chief heading up the case has also confirmed that potential financial abuse of vulnerable patients by Muckamore staff is also being probed in what is now the biggest criminal adult safeguarding investigation of its kind in Northern Ireland.
Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie said she understood the frustration of families affected but stressed her team is working through "every single minute of CCTV footage" and every report to "bring anyone guilty of any criminal offences before the courts".
Belfast health trust, the organisation responsible for Muckamore, had hired an expert team to view the retrospective footage but it has now emerged it did not examine a "major part of night-time" material - specifically after 8pm.
A parent was told last month by police that fresh concerns of alleged 'ill treatment' of his son by staff in the middle of the night had come to light - with one incident allegedly occurring shortly before 3am.
He was also informed it would take another "59 working days" - taking them to September - before round-the-clock viewing of the PICU images by the PSNI is complete.
The hospital, located outside Antrim town, is a regional facility for adults with severe learning disabilities.
To date, a total of 20 staff, mainly nurses, have been suspended in relation to physical abuse and mental cruelty of patients.
While the allegations centre on the six-bedded PICU - which cares for the most seriously ill vulnerable patients from across the north - footage relating to other Muckamore wards has also flagged up potential abuse which police are also probing.
The latest development comes after a BBC Panorama reporter exposed abuse of patients with learning difficulties in a private 12-bedded facility, Whorlton Hall in Co Durham. Within 48 hours of the programme being broadcast, there were 10 arrests.
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Some families of Muckamore patients say that while they have faith in the PSNI probe, they are concerned about the length of time it is taking for prosecutions when compared with the police response in Durham.
Glynn Brown, who first alerted the Department of Health to the scandal after learning his vulnerable son had allegedly been punched in the stomach while a patient in PICU in August 2017, has repeatedly raised concerns about about the trust's handling of the crisis.
"I was given a drip-feed of information about my son and at the last count before Christmas, I was told there were 48 incidents involving his ill treatment following viewing of CCTV by the Belfast trust. I was assured that was it," he said.
"But now police have told me they have just discovered three more incidents - and the viewing is still not complete. I am glad they are carrying out a full and thorough investigation but once again what it does highlight are the massive deficiencies in trust's investigation.
"It also highlights the need for a fully independent public inquiry. We know that the Department of Health has the power to call it - what is so bad that has yet to come out that is preventing them from calling it?"
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The Irish News asked the Belfast trust why it had failed to view '100 per cent' of the CCTV images from the PICU when its chief executive, Martin Dillon, had been instructed to do so by the Department of Health in November 2017.
The trust had initially proposed to view just a quarter of the images - a move criticised in private correspondence by department chiefs.
In a statement a trust spokesman said: "The Belfast trust continues to work towards viewing 100 per cent of footage across the Muckamore site. We are liaising closely with the PSNI to ensure this is being appropriately recorded and managed."