Northern Ireland news

Muckamore inquiry 'will impinge on staff members charged with crimes from having fair trial', court hears

Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Co Antrim. Picture by Mal McCann

LAWYERS representing Muckamore hospital staff members charged with criminal offences have expressed concerns the ongoing public inquiry will impinge on them having a fair trial, a court heard.

Antrim Magistrates Court, sitting in Ballymena, heard that defence teams for some of the eight defendants have written to the Attorney General, the Public Prosecution Service and the inquiry chair expressing their concerns.

Defence solicitor Conor Heaney told District Judge Nigel Broderick that he had written to all three.

He said the decision to run a public inquiry in parallel to a criminal case would create “clear tension” between the competing rights of those involved - an inquiry which is in the public interest and the rights of a defendant to a fair trial.

His fellow solicitor Joseph McVeigh echoed those concerns and revealed that he had also written to the Attorney General to raise concerns about comments made by Health Minister Robin Swann and inquiry chairman Tom Kark QC.

However, prosecuting counsel David McNeill suggested there would be no impingement to the defendants receiving a fair trial because reporting restrictions mean that no one in the public inquiry can be identified.

"We do not accept that the right to a fair trial has been jeopardised by reporting," he said.

The eight defendants are: Naoife Donnelly (38), Red Row, Portglenone; James Houston (36), Elliotts Place, Strangford;

Aaron McFetridge (36), Rosses Stables, Ballymena; Dorothy Irwin (58), Glenburn Ave, Glynn; Stephen Nixon (age unknown), Creevy Ave, Belfast; Danielle Gallagher (30), Dermot Crescent, Newtownabbey; Darren O’Kane (33), Creeve Court, Randalstown, and Darren O’Loan (35), Aghaboy Gardens, Antrim.

A total of 131 separate offences have been highlighted between April 25 and September 14 2017.

In addition, Gallagher, Houston, Irwin and Nixon face a total of 16 charges of making false entries on mental health documents.

The defendants were charged following a police investigation into allegations of abuse by staff at the mental health facility on the outskirts of Antrim.

Previous courts have heard that while there are close to 7,000 pages of evidence and statements, the key evidence against the five men and three women is based on CCTV footage.

The case was adjourned to July 19.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Northern Ireland news