THE father of a Muckamore Abbey Hospital patient who played a crucial role in exposing a massive abuse scandal has spoken publicly for the first time.
Glynn Brown (58), from Dundonald in Co Down, said he decided to go 'on record' after being asked to head up a pressure group made up of families lobbying for a public inquiry into serious care failings.
A letter drawn up by a solicitor acting on behalf of the group was sent to the Department of Health on Friday requesting an inquiry into what has been described as "systemic abuse" at the Co Antrim facility for adults with severe leaning disabilities.
"This is a group of people who have fire in their bellies - who feel their loved ones have been treated in despicable manner at Muckamore and who want answers," Mr Brown said.
"I firmly believe if we had a functioning Assembly we would have easily pushed the public inquiry through the door as all the main political parties are now backing us.
"We've been told the Secretary of State is the only person who can order it and she needs to take charge of this. There has been a huge loss of public confidence in the health service as a result of what has come to light."
The father-of-four was the person who alerted the Department of Health in August 2017 about the potential scale of the abuse after he felt he was being "fobbed off" by the Belfast health trust - the organisation responsible for Muckamore - about alleged abuse of his 22-year-old son.
Department chiefs told him and his MP, Gavin Robinson, in a private meeting last September there were delays in the trust reporting the crisis and they felt information was "suppressed". Significantly, they said they may never have been made aware of the enormity of the allegations had Mr Brown not approached them. The trust has since apologised for an initial delay and insisted it acted appropriately.
The Dundonald man was first interviewed anonymously by The Irish News last August, just three weeks after the newspaper revealed a catalogue of disturbing allegations of vulnerable patients being physically assaulted by healthcare staff in the regional hospital.
CCTV cameras reportedly showed images of patients being kicked, punched, kneed in the groin and thrown into a seclusion room without supervision over a six-month period between March and September 2017.
On the day the story was published on July 26, senior health officials visited Mr Brown's home to apologise for the ill-treatment of his son, after he was allegedly punched in the stomach while being cared for in the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).
The reported assault was described at the time as a "one-off" but the young man's parents have since learned there are now 48 'incidents' relating to their son which are being investigated by police as part of the biggest criminal safeguarding investigation of its kind in Northern Ireland.
Mr Brown, who has previously spoken anonymously about his frustration with the Belfast health trust's handling of the crisis, said he has chosen to go public because he believes the police probe is gathering pace.
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"Things seem to be coming to a conclusion and I am extremely hopeful there will be prosecutions - there was a time when I was worried the allegations weren't being taken seriously and I thought the investigation would never get off the ground. That's changed," he said.
The Co Down man described the past year as "mentally draining" for his family and said what has been uppermost in his mind is the feelings of his severely autistic son, who is non-verbal and has the mind of a two-year-old.
He and his wife viewed CCTV footage of their son being assaulted last July - images which have "haunted" the couple because it was the first time he had "held his hands up and shown fear for the first time in his life".
"The last six months have had a really devastating effect on us, particularly my wife, who has received counselling and has been unable to sleep since watching the images," he said.
"As a father, it has been really hard for me to stomach and I feel fury at how at my son has been treated. He had all this cruelty inflicted on him and he couldn't tell us anything about it. I keep thinking - what was going on in his head."
An independent report commissioned by the trust and published at the end of last year concluded that lives were "compromised" at Muckamore.
The Belfast health trust has issued an "unreserved apology" to those affected but Mr Brown said he has "absolutely no confidence" in the organisation and feels the report "didn't go far enough" in holding management to account.
To date, 19 staff - mainly nurses - have been suspended by the trust. Last month, seven nurses successfully applied to have temporary bans imposed by their regulator lifted after a high court judge ruled there was insufficient evidence.
While the seven Muckamore nurses are still suspended by the trust, they are back on the UK nursing register and can work elsewhere.
"There have been too many failings and I resorted to using Freedom of Information requests to get answers about what happened to my son," Mr Brown said.
"The trust's apology means nothing to me. We need a full public inquiry."
Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law, who is mounting a legal challenge on behalf of relatives and acting as advisor to the new group, known as Action for Muckamore, last night confirmed the letter had been forwarded to the Department to "request an inquiry into the scandal at Muckamore".
"There must be a sufficient element of public scrutiny of the investigation or its results to secure accountability," Ms McKeegan said.
"The department has a duty to uphold the rule of law and ensure that systemic lessons are learned. An inquiry must be effective, prompt, independent, and impartial. Victims should be able to participate, speak and be heard."