Northern Ireland news

Secretary of State meets Muckamore father for first time as calls intensify for public inquiry

Julian Smith, Secretary of State, will today hear demands for a public inquiry into a hospital abuse scandal in Co Antrim Picture Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

SECRETARY of State Julian Smith will today meet the father of a Muckamore Abbey Hospital patient as pressure mounts for a public inquiry into a massive abuse scandal.

This is the first time since his appointment in July that Mr Smith has spoken to those affected by the crisis at the Co Antrim facility, which is being investigated by police in relation to 1,500 crimes against vulnerable adults.

Dundonald man Glynn Brown, whose 22-year-old non-verbal son Aaron was allegedly assaulted by healthcare staff, will attend the meeting along with his MP, East Belfast DUP representative Gavin Robinson.

Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law, who is representing 12 families of Muckamore patients, will also be present and said her clients must be told the "full truth of what has happened".

All three will demand that a public inquiry is urgently ordered by Mr Smith.

Mr Brown, who last week learned from police there are 140 incidents of alleged abuse of his son captured on CCTV, said today's meeting was "crucial".

"It gives us the opportunity to press upon Mr Smith that he must live up to his role and call for a public inquiry," he said.

"Police have told us this is much worse than the Winterbourne View hospital scandal which resulted in an inquiry in England. We know there have been systemic failings at Muckamore and only a root and branch inquiry will investigate this from the top down."

In April, leaked correspondence revealed that a Department of Health lawyer advised that an inquiry was not "in the public interest" at "this time".

The most senior civil servant at the department, Richard Pengelly, has also said that the decision must rest with a minister, adding that it would have to be adjourned until the conclusion of the police investigation.

However, Mr Robinson, who arranged the meeting, last night insisted that an inquiry could be ordered in tandem with PSNI probe.

"The inquiry could focus in the first instance on systemic failures of regulation...primarily the regulatory oversight and management that was clearly lacking from the Belfast health Trust, the department and the RQIA," Mr Robinson said.

"There's a way in which you can frame it so that those (criminal) aspects are avoided until they are dealt with at the appropriate time.

"The families need to see that the importance of this case is understood and suitably responded to by government."

Ms McKeegan said it was her understanding that the Muckamore scandal was the biggest adult safeguarding investigation of its kind "since the inception of the NHS".

And she raised concerns that the police investigation "will only go so far".

"Patients and their families must be told the full truth of what has happened. This includes when the management of the trust, the RQIA and PSNI first became aware of patients being abused at the hospital and what steps were taken if any. The police investigation into the assaults will only go so far.

"Given the number of patients abused and the horrifying number of incidents now revealed by PSNI, serious questions must be asked about why this did not come to the attention of those in positions of responsibility sooner. Many of our clients have been told their relative was assaulted more than 100 times in the hospital.  How can this not have been identified and escalated.

"If proper systems had have been in place, patients could have been saved from harm.

"It is now time for the trust to support the patients and their call for a public inquiry. It is the right thing to do. It is clear that Muckamore Abbey Hospital is the most serious adult safeguarding scandal since the inception of the NHS. In such circumstances, families should not have to campaign for the answers that they deserve".

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