Northern Ireland

Muckamore breakthrough as detectives submit file to PPS for first time

DCI Jill Duffie is the lead officer heading up the massive PSNI investigation into the Muckmore Abbey Hospital abuse scandal. Picture by Hugh Russell
DCI Jill Duffie is the lead officer heading up the massive PSNI investigation into the Muckmore Abbey Hospital abuse scandal. Picture by Hugh Russell

DETECTIVES investigating allegations of abuse at Muckamore Abbey Hospital have submitted files to the Public Prosecution Service for the first time - more than two years after the massive probe started.

The Irish News has learned a specialist team of PSNI officers sent an "extensive" file to prosecutors last week with a "number of suspects reported" following their examination of 300,000 hours of CCTV footage at the Co Antrim regional facility.

A solicitor representing families of Muckamore patients who allegedly suffered physical abuse and mental cruelty by staff described the development as an "important milestone".

Concerns had been raised about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the case, which is the biggest adult safeguarding investigation of its kind in Northern Ireland.

However the PSNI lead officer, Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie, confirmed it will continue.

In a statement, she said: "The investigation by detectives from the PSNI's Public Protection Branch into allegations of ill-treatment of patients at Muckamore Abbey hospital is continuing at this time and will be kept under constant review in the current circumstances," she said.

Police also said that "a file has now been submitted to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS)".

Relatives of Muckamore patients were telephoned over the weekend by detectives to inform them.

Dundonald man Glynn Brown, who alerted authorities in August 2017 after learning his non-verbal son, Aaron, was reportedly assaulted by a staff member in Muckamore's psychiatric Intensive Care ward, said it was "significant".

Police have informed Mr Brown they have now discovered more than 130 "incidents" of alleged ill treatment of his son after viewing CCTV footage.

"There was a fear among some of us that the investigation might would be put on the back burner due to coronavirus but this doesn't appear to be the case," Mr Brown said.

"Assurances have been given that detectives are committed and have gathered a huge amount of evidence. The fact they have now sent a file with all that evidence to the PPS shows progress."

To date, there have been seven arrests but no-one has been charged. A total of 40 Muckamore nursing staff have been suspended.

Allegations of disturbing acts of abuse were first reported in The Irish News two years ago after it emerged CCTV cameras captured "ill treatment" and unmonitored seclusion of vulnerable patients with severe learning disabilities.

Last August, Detective Chief Inspector Duffie revealed that 1,500 suspected crimes were discovered by her team in just one ward over a six-month period in 2017.

The PSNI officer was appointed to head the investigation at the beginning of last year and brought in additional resources - there are more than 20 officers now assigned to the case - once the scale of the scandal began to emerge.

While police received reports in the summer of 2017, the "true picture" did not emerge until the following year when a "deluge" of incidents surfaced, according to Chief Inspector Duffie.

Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law, who is representing Muckamore families, said that while there was frustration at the lack of prosecutions given the amount of CCTV evidence, she welcomed the submission of files to the PPS.

"This development is a massive milestone for all the families of all those patients who have been allegedly abused in Muckamore Abbey hospital," she said.

"Many are not aware which health care professional harmed their loved one and so desperately need answers and accountability.

"Many are still in the hospital while alternative placements remain outstanding and it is impossible for families to have confidence in the hospital as a care setting while the investigations are ongoing. We have reiterated the families call for a public inquiry. The families must be allowed to know the true extent of this and be assured safeguarding recommendations will be implemented."