Northern Ireland news

Analysis: Ennis report reveals disturbing culture at Muckamore

The leaked report reveals a whistleblower first raised concerns about alleged abuse seven years ago
Seanín Graham

TODAY'S leaked report comes at a crucial point in an unprecedented police investigation into more recent allegations at Muckamore - with striking similarities between the two probes.

Authors of the 2012 review don't just expose acts of cruelty on vulnerable patients but also shine a spotlight on a culture in which "alleged behaviours" of physical assaults and neglect took place in plain sight - in this case in front of visiting staff members.

There is no doubt that it if had not been for those private health careworkers blowing the whistle, the case would never have been passed up to management or subject to a police probe.

And it is that culture of concealment that is central to the current scandal - where a staggering 1,500 suspected crimes have now been identified by detectives in a six-bedded ward in 2017.

'Nepotism' within the hospital’s workforce was singled out last year in a separate independent report, with many staff related or in relationships and "fearful of grassing".

For the Belfast trust, the re-emergence of the damning Ennis Safeguarding Investigation coincides with the appointment of new directors to oversee and crisis manage the facility.

Sources say the Ennis allegations are almost identical to those reported two years ago in relation to a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) except the "CCTV cameras weren't rolling ".

Read More:Timeline of unprecedented Muckamore abuse investigation

The role of CCTV was crucial in the PICU probe and forms the basis of the massive PSNI probe.

However, for the NHS investigation team and detectives probing allegations at Ennis, there was no CCTV footage to rely on and they were instead faced with flat denials and in some instances, a wall of silence from Muckamore suspects.

Some even claimed they weren't working shifts at the time of the alleged offences - even though it was proven they were - while others resigned or refused to take part in the investigation.

When one care worker was convicted of assault in 2014 - a charge she denied - it was the evidence of another worker who flew back from Australia to Antrim court that was critical to the case.

Muckamore Abbey Hospital, Co Antrim Picture by Mal McCann.

As reported in today's Irish News, it is understood that alarm bells are now sounding over what became of the Ennis probe.

‘Discussions’ have been held at the top levels of the trust as to how the report's recommendations were acted on and how such appalling allegations could be repeated.

The role of the regulator in relation to Muckamore over the past decade must also be scrutinised.

The Irish News asked health watchdog, the RQIA last Wednesday for its Ennis inspection reports - we know that four took place in late 2012 - but were told these were "in storage" and would not be available at the time of going to print.

Central to this latest leak however are the patients and families affected, both in 2012 and 2017.

For them, fundamental questions remain as to how this hospital was managed from top down over the past decade and how a 'culture of silence' around wrongdoing became so pervasive.

While a police investigation will examine the criminal aspect of this harrowing case, only a public inquiry can get to the truth and provide all the answers families deserve.

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