Leading article

Scale of Muckamore Abbey abuse demands a public inquiry

Although the confidential report into the serious mistreatment of vulnerable patients at Muckamore Abbey hospital in Co Antrim is harrowing in every respect, there will still be concerns that the complete details of the scandal have yet to be revealed.

The review, commissioned by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, examined safeguarding issues at the facility for adults with severe learning difficulties outside Antrim town between 2012 and 2017.

As our comprehensive coverage yesterday and today demonstrates, it described a culture `shaped by power' which allowed residents, who were typically and tragically unable to alert their relatives, to be beaten and brutalised by the staff who should have been protecting them.

The repeated assaults were frequently of an extreme nature, with the victims at different stages being kicked while on the ground, kneed in the groin and dragged by the hair.

Suspicions from families about what was happening were initially dismissed by managers, although it transpired that proper records were not kept and staff who in some cases were related to each other were fearful about the consequences of speaking out.

The authors of the report, who began their investigations over a year ago, must have been deeply disturbed by the evidence they considered, which included a wide range of CCTV images, and they deserve to be commended for reaching such direct and blunt conclusions.

There will still be surprise over the assertion from the father of one victim that the expert team had only viewed a limited section of the footage involving his son, causing the parent to fear that the overall level of abuse could be even worse than so far documented.

With the number of taped incidents of mistreatment towards this one defenceless individual having shockingly risen to 43, the alarm expressed by his father is easy to understand.

There will also be a strong sense that the truth about the appalling events at Muckamore Abbey would never have begun to emerge publicly without the outstanding work of our health correspondent Seanín Graham since last summer.

The sheer scale of the allegations prompted the PSNI to take the unprecedented step of seeking the assistance of the National Crime Agency, with comparisons drawn to the appalling catalogue of attacks on patients at Winterbourne View private hospital in England which led to the institution eventually closing down and six members of staff going to jail in 2012.

In all the circumstances, it is difficult to see how a properly constituted Muckamore Abbey public inquiry, presided over by a senior judge, can ultimately be avoided.

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