Northern Ireland news

Muckamore Public Inquiry chair to hold face-to-face meeting with families of patients affected by abuse scandal

The Muckamore Abbey public inquiry gets underway next month. Picture by Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

THE chair of the Public Inquiry investigating the Muckamore Abbey Hospital abuse scandal has agreed to meet families of patients affected.

The long-awaited inquiry is to get underway next month and relatives making up a pressure group had expressed concerns that their request for a face-to-face meeting with Tom Kark QC had not been granted.

However, a solicitor representing Action for Muckamore (AFM), Claire McKeegan, confirmed the new inquiry team has contacted her to arrange a date within the next fortnight.

The scope of the inquiry and how far back the probe into the Co Antrim regional facility should go will be among the issues discussed.

The Irish News has also learned that premises in Belfast city centre suitable for public hearings are close to being finalised while a senior counsel to the inquiry, Sean Doran QC, is now appointed.

Mr Doran previously acted as counsel to the coroner in the landmark Ballymurphy inquest.

Ms McKeegan of Phoenix Law said she welcomed the developments, which come a year after the inquiry was first ordered by health minister Robin Swann.

The hearings into alleged physical abuse, mental cruelty and neglect of vulnerable patients by healthcare staff will run alongside a massive police investigation which has already led to 24 arrests.

Almost 80 hospital employees - mainly from the nursing workforce - have been suspended by the Belfast trust.

Minutes from a Department of Health led meeting on Muckamore seen by The Irish News earlier this month confirmed that a start date of October 1 was set following agreement on Terms of Reference and "timeframes" the inquiry team will examine.

"On behalf of the families, I welcome the news that the inquiry chair will be in place early next month," Ms McKeegan said.

"There is also positive news around where the inquiry will sit and the appointment of legal teams, including the appointment of Sean Doran QC.

"The opportunity to meet the chair will allow the families to share their views on their desired scope for Terms of Reference and how it should address the abuses - and get to the truth.

"They are also seeking support services that they deem necessary.

"If the Terms of Reference are not right then their chance of getting justice are obviously negligible."

A consultation led by the Patient Client Council was carried last year as to what shape the inquiry should take.

This was carried out via Zoom meetings, which some families said led them to feeling "guarded" about their views.

Dundonald man Glynn Brown, who was the first parent to raise the the alarm about alleged abuse of his non-verbal son Aaron in Muckmore five years ago, also welcomed the meeting and said he he hopes Mr Kark will "take their views into consideration".

Earlier this month Mr Brown, who heads up AFM, criticised the inquiry team for failing to acknowledge their request for a month.

He added: "We are a deeply wronged group of families and we want to have confidence in this team."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said Mr Swann has been consulting with the inquiry chair since his appointment earlier this year.

She added the release of its Terms of Reference are "imminent".

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