Muckamore families to meet Public Inquiry chair for first time as appeal goes out to those affected to come forward
FAMILIES of Muckamore Abbey Hospital patients are preparing to meet the chair overseeing the public inquiry into an abuse scandal, as the first week of the inquiry gets underway.
Members of the Action for Muckamore (AfM) pressure group will tomorrow have a first face-to-face conversation with Tom Kark QC following his appointment in June.
The group, which is made up of relatives whose loved ones were allegedly abused by staff at the Co Antrim regional hospital, have led a campaign for an inquiry and say they hope it will have "teeth".
On its opening day, Mr Kark yesterday urged those affected to come forward as soon as possible and confirmed his team will be travelling across Northern Ireland to host engagement events.
Belfast, Newry, Derry, Antrim and Coleraine will be among the cities and towns visited over the next week where the inquiry's work will be explained.
Earlier this month it emerged the team will probe events going back 20 years at hospital, which cares for adults with severe learning disabilities.
Twenty-four people have been arrested, with seven facing prosecution.
Physical abuse, mental cruelty and neglect of adult patients by staff - mainly from the nursing workforce - will be probed by the inquiry.
Solicitor Claire McKeegan of Phoenix Law represents AfM and said its establishment was "testament to the determination of families".
"They have fought for this day as they were told 'no' to the public inquiry that is so very clearly necessary. They had to battle with the Department of Health to ensure that the full truth and shame of this scandal can be revealed," she said.
"It is important that the chair is empowered to ensure that this work is not in vain. The recommendations must have teeth."
Public hearings are expected to begin next spring while premises are currently being finalised in Belfast.
In a statement, Mr Kark encouraged people to approach them with evidence while recognising the "distress" it will cause.
"It is important that all those who have information, of whatever nature, come forward as early as possible and engage with the Inquiry. I recognise that this may be an extremely distressing time for some and can assure individuals that all engagement with the Inquiry will be strictly confidential and you will be treated with sensitivity," he said.
The chair described the opening day as a "significant date" for patients and their families.
"I want to reassure you that a thorough and impartial investigation will be carried out by the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry," he said.
The engagement events will take place between October 13 and 20. A virtual session is also planned.
The inquiry website is now live at, www.mahinquiry.org.uk
"Here you will find details on how to engage with us which will also be publicised at our engagement events. In the meantime, if you have any questions, a member of the Inquiry team can be contacted on 02890 515462," Mr Kark added.