Northern Ireland news

Father of Muckamore patient 'cautiously hopeful' of public inquiry after meeting with Julian Smith

Glynn Brown met with Secretary of State Julian Smith at Stormont yesterday to demand a public inquiry into the Muckamore abuse scandal. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

A FATHER who has campaigned for a public inquiry into the abuse scandal at Muckamore Abbey Hospital has said he is "cautiously hopeful" following his first meeting with the Secretary of State.

Glynn Brown received an informal apology from Julian Smith during the private talks yesterday, during which he relayed the litany of alleged assaults carried out on his vulnerable son while a patient in the Co Antrim facility.

Mr Smith, who took up post in July, described the scale of the abuse as "horrifying" and gave a commitment to examining the details of the case before making a decision, according to Mr Brown.

Police last week informed the Dundonald father-of-four that more than 140 incidents of alleged abuse of his non-verbal son, Aaron (22), have been captured on CCTV while he was being nursed in the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit in 2017.

The regional hospital for adults with severe learning disabilities is at the centre of the biggest ever adult safeguarding PSNI investigation, with 1,500 crimes identified.

Speaking after the Stormont meeting, which was also attended by DUP MP Gavin Robinson and solicitor Claire McKeegan, Mr Brown described it as "worthwhile".

"It was good that he made the time for us and that he apologised for the pain caused. Mr Smith was also very keen to hear about the specific details of what happened to my son and where the police investigation is at," he said.

"I wasn't expecting him to give us an assurance about a public inquiry but he did listen very carefully to what each of us had to say and told us he would come back to us. I am cautiously hopeful."

Ms McKeegan of Phoenix Law, who is representing 12 families of Muckamore patients, has written to the Department of Health asking it to order a public inquiry.

The department has claimed that only a minister can sanction it, adding that an inquiry would have to be adjourned until the conclusion of the police investigation.

However, both Ms McKeegan and Mr Robinson yesterday insisted that an inquiry can take place in tandem with the PSNI probe by initially focussing on the "systemic" failings.

Ms McKeegan cited the "significant example" of the Hillsborough tragedy, where the two ran simultaneously.

"We made it clear to the Secretary of State that the public inquiry does not need to await the outcome of the PSNI investigation which could span many years. The law demands a prompt and independent investigation," she said.

"He listened to the stories of our clients who have been told of hundreds of assaults perpetrated on their vulnerable relatives and apologised for what he described as an appalling situation.

"The patients' families demand a full examination of all organisations that let them down. This could include the PSNI, the RQIA, the Department of Health and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust."

Mr Robinson added that the meeting was an "important engagement" but they were a "long way" from a successful conclusion.

"We are now two years into this - we've come this far, we're not going to give up," he said.

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