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Calls for public inquiry into claims of abuse and neglect at mental health facility

Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie said that over 1,500 crimes had been identified in one ward over a 6 month period.

Image: grainne

THE LAWYERS FOR patients at the centre of what has become the largest adult safeguarding case in Northern Ireland have said that they are calling for a public inquiry into the abuse.

Human rights law group Phoenix Law has written to the Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith MP to request an urgent meeting in relation to the abuse at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, Co Antrim, which treats patients with severe mental and physical disabilities.

In an interview with the Irish News, the lead detective into alleged abuse at Muckamore Abbey Detective Chief Inspector Jill Duffie, said there was evidence of 1,500 offences on one ward. Phoenix Law said that these included “criminal assaults and incidents of neglect and inappropriate use of a seclusion room”.

The scale of the allegations were first reported to the PSNI in the summer of 2017, with the Irish News breaking the story publicly a year ago, following what lawyers called “preservation and determined” FOI requests and letters of complaint.

An estimated 20 members of staff have been suspended following since then pending the outcome of the investigation, which is the largest safeguarding investigation the PSNI have ever dealt with.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, Duffie said that the CCTV footage that police were inspecting was “difficult” to watch.

“There is something very difficult about watching this footage due to the vulnerability of the patients. It is very difficult to watch. I have seen the physical abuse of patients, yes.

It’s a very traumatic offence and yes, we have seen the repeated pattern of the physical and mental abuse of the patients in that ward. 

In a statement released to TheJournal.ie today,  Phoenix Law said that they had cross-party support for a full public inquiry into the systemic failings which allowed this abuse to occur.

“All of the political party leaders in NI have written to the department of health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly asking him to act without any further delay.”

The law firm said that the families are “distraught” that no one at a senior level intervened to halt the harm done to vulnerable patients. Phoenix Law added:

The hospital is no longer fit for purpose and currently there is no suitable replacement facility for vulnerable adults in Northern Ireland. Families are struggling to cope with relatives in the absence of appropriate care packages or inpatient treatment where it is required.

“Many patients remain in Muckamore waiting for an alternative health care setting.”

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