Northern Ireland news

Muckamore suspensions hit 74 as eighteenth arrest made

Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Co Antrim is a regional facility for adults with severe learning disabilities. It is at the centre of the biggest criminal investigation of its kind following allegations of patient abuse. Picture Mal McCann
Seanín Graham

A TOTAL of 74 staff have now been suspended from Muckamore Abbey Hospital as part of a massive abuse investigation which also led to an eighteenth arrest yesterday.

Belfast health trust last night confirmed that a further five employees were suspended in the past month while "less than five" have been sacked from the Co Antrim facility.

The Irish News understands that nursing staff make up the vast majority of suspensions - with more than 30 on the nursing register.

The number of those placed on "precautionary suspension" by the trust has remained at 69 for months as an internal disciplinary process continues.

Meanwhile, detectives leading the unprecedented probe into alleged abuse of vulnerable adult patients confirmed that a 42-year-old woman was arrested in the Antrim area.

She was the third female detained in a week.

The case is the biggest criminal investigation of its kind in Northern Ireland with 1,500 suspected crimes discovered in one ward alone between April and September 2017.

Last month it emerged that seven people are to be prosecuted and face a range of offences, including ill-treatment and wilful neglect.

More than 300,000 hours of CCTV footage from hospital wards are central to the police investigation - with staff suspects not realising the cameras were recording.

Dundonald man Glynn Brown, who first raised the alarm in August 2017 after receiving reports that his non-verbal son Aaron was allegedly struck by an employee in the hospital's psychiatric intensive care unit, said the latest suspensions were "news to him".

"We were promised openness and transparency by the Belfast trust but we seem to get updates through misadventure or the media," he said.

"It has been 69 suspensions for a while now so what has happened that there's an extra five within the space of a few weeks."

Mr Brown is among a number of relatives who have raised concerns about the delay in appointing a chair to oversee the public inquiry into the crisis, which was ordered by health minister Robin Swann eight months ago.

He heads up a pressure group and said there has "never been an urgency with Muckamore".

"We welcomed the calling of the public inquiry but it's now almost eight months down the line and we still don't know who is going to chair it. I understand there's complexities within the civil service but to take this length of time is incredible."

The Department of Health is expected to announce a chair soon after confirming it received a report on public consultation responses on March 11.


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