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Muckamore correspondence will reinforce case for a public inquiry

The Muckamore hospital abuse investigation saw another significant development this week that will further demonstrate that this is a healthcare scandal which in scale and scope is unprecedented in Northern Ireland.

On Wednesday, the PSNI searched eight homes linked to hospital staff and seized mobile phones from properties in Co Antrim and Co Down.

This operation marks the latest stage in the police investigation which is examining 158 alleged incidents of ill treatment of vulnerable patients at the Co Antrim hospital.

But while families have welcomed the searches, concerns have been expressed regarding the protracted nature of the police probe, which has been ongoing since 2017.

One father said it had been 17 months since he first got the call about his son being abused by a staff member and added: ''My big worry is the longer it goes on the harder it will be to get justice.''

There is no doubt that this is a complex case and far wider in scope than initially thought.

Among the evidence being considered by what is now the biggest criminal safeguarding investigation of its kind in the north, is footage from CCTV cameras which recorded staff physically assaulting patients with severe learning disabilities.

A total of 19 staff, mainly nurses, have been suspended while the PSNI has also taken the unusual step of seeking the assistance of the National Crime Agency.

Meanwhile, yet more details have emerged in relation to how the health trust responsible for Muckamore responded to serious allegations of abuse.

In a letter obtained by The Irish News under Freedom of Information, Belfast trust chief executive Martin Dillon accepted there were 'clear failures' in alerting Department of Health officials to the crisis and apologised for the organisation's 'shortcomings.'

This correspondence, which DUP MP Gavin Robinson said confirmed a lack of transparency in the trust, will intensify demands for a public inquiry into the profoundly disturbing situation that has been uncovered at Muckamore.

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