Northern Ireland

Analysis: Insight into massive police investigation will strengthen calls for Muckamore public inquiry

Glynn Brown, whose son is a patient at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, alerted the Department of Health to suspected abuse two years ago. Picture Mal McCann.
Glynn Brown, whose son is a patient at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, alerted the Department of Health to suspected abuse two years ago. Picture Mal McCann.

CONFIDENCE in the Belfast health trust's investigation into the worst abuse scandal at a Northern Ireland hospital has plummeted over the past six months.

For many families the final straw was learning that police had discovered hundreds of new alleged assaults by staff on their vulnerable relatives in Muckamore Abbey Hospital's Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Last December, the trust gave assurances that their expert teams had viewed CCTV footage and in one case told a parent who first raised the alarm - Dundonald man Glynn Brown - that the "total" number of "incidents" against his son stood at 48.

However, last month Mr Brown learned from a police officer that a PSNI probe had found at least double the trust figure of suspected "ill treatment" offences committed against his non-verbal son.

Read More: Police team assigned to Muckamore increases five-fold due to 'complexity' of probe

That officer is one of a specialist team set up last autumn who uncovered an avalanche of disturbing crimes following 'minute by minute' viewing of the CCTV footage that forms the basis of this case.

Central to the progress of the investigation was the appointment of a new lead detective at the beginning of this year, Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie, who within weeks of taking up the role sanctioned searches of properties linked to staff and seized mobile phones.

For relatives - whose faith had also waned in the police operation due to lack of arrests - the existence of dedicated 'liaison' officers providing updates was pivotal at a time of increasing frustration with the health trust as they sought to get answers about what exactly had happened to their loved ones.

While Belfast trust chiefs have repeatedly apologised for the scandal and tried to improve communications with families, relations remain difficult.

Read More: Timeline of Muckamore abuse investigation

In her interview in today's Irish News, Detective Chief Inspector Duffie outlines the extraordinary scale and complexities of the probe that is now the biggest of its kind for the Northern Ireland police force.

Her drive to secure convictions will be hugely important for those desperate to get truth and justice for their loved ones

The PSNI officer's frankness about the "inevitably" of further staff suspensions will also be deeply worrying for those concerned about the future of Muckamore Abbey hospital given its current reliance on agency staff.

What is clear from this insight into the vast police investigation is that the need for a public inquiry is more pressing than ever to discover, as Jill Duffie put it, "how this happened at Muckamore and how the system allowed this to happen".

Read more: Detective leading the investigation says 1,500 crimes have been identified in just one ward

Seanin Graham 
Seanin Graham