By Rebecca Black, PA
A vulnerable patient abused at Muckamore Abbey Hospital went from enjoying vocalising to remaining in his room, looking down and never smiling, an inquiry has heard.
A barrister representing patients and families at the Co Antrim facility referred to the words of the sister of a patient there in the mid-2010s,
Conor Maguire QC told the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry that her brother had been assaulted and mistreated by some staff over a two-year period.
“He was not the same after the incidents, he became very withdrawn and depressed, he was put on antidepressants. He enjoyed vocalising when he was happy but stopped vocalising at all,” he said.
“He would sit in his bedroom looking down, he never smiled, he didn’t engage with others.”
The inquiry heard earlier in the week that police are reviewing 300,000 hours of CCTV footage from the facility as part of the criminal investigation.
Mr Maguire is representing a group of patients and family members who are not affiliated with two groups who are also represented at the inquiry.
He described anger and frustration that “but for CCTV becoming available after having emerged in 2017, these matters would not be in the public domain and action would not have been taken”.
The hospital, for adults with severe learning disabilities and mental health needs, has been at the centre of the UK’s largest police investigation into the alleged abuse of vulnerable adults.
A number of people are to be prosecuted.
Mr Maguire paid tribute to the efforts of those who campaigned for a public inquiry.
Two groups – Action for Muckamore and the Society of Parents and Friends of Muckamore Abbey – are represented at the inquiry and will give opening statements next week.
Mr Maguire said he represents a significant group of individuals who are not aligned or affiliated with either group but have a close interest in events.
He said he expects more to join the group as the hearings go on.
“The inquiry has already heard apologies about appalling abuse suffered by patients at Muckamore,” he said.
“This inquiry will now provide that all too often missing listening ear to the families as they present their harrowing stories of patient and family experiences, as they give their graphic accounts of abuse and mistreatment, and as they recount their painful memories, some in relation to patients who are now deceased.”
The inquiry also heard opening statements from Belfast Health Trust and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) on Thursday morning.
The hospital was the responsibility of the former North and West Belfast Health and Social Services Trust, which has since become part of the larger Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.
Counsel for the trust Joseph Aiken QC said that by May 24 2022, following the review of CCTV footage, 83 members of staff had been placed on precautionary suspension, and a further 68 have been placed on a form of supervision and training.
“On any level, those are remarkable and disturbing statistics. No doubt the response was not perfect, response to crises rarely are, but nonetheless, extensive steps have been taken to deal with the quite exceptional situation that developed following the viewing of CCTV from Muckamore Abbey Hospital relating to a period of months in 2017,” he told the inquiry.
He described the abuse allegations as a “source of shame” for the trust and its staff.
“It involved a betrayal of the values of the Belfast trust, those values are upheld day after day, year after year, by the vast majority of the staff of the Belfast trust,” he told the inquiry.
He also reiterated the trust’s apology to the patients and families, as well as apologising for staff who witnessed abuse and did not intervene.
The trust’s chief executive Cathy Jack and chairman Peter McNaney attended the sitting as the opening statement was delivered.
Mr Aiken said their presence was an “act of recognition that the Belfast trust failed in its core duty to look after the safety of its patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital”, as well as a demonstration of the commitment of the trust to the work of the inquiry.
Mr Aiken said the trust recognises some evidence “will not be edifying of the Belfast trust and its staff”, adding it will be difficult for patients, families, the trust and its staff to hear.
“However Belfast trust is committed to learning as much as possible through the inquiry process so as to make its ongoing and future provision of learning disability both as safe and as fulfilling for patients as it possibly can,” he said.
Michael Leeson for the RQIA said it recognises “failings in oversight of care provided to the patients in Muckamore”.
He said the RQIA also apologises to the patients and their families for not uncovering the abuse.
He said the authority has undertaken a comprehensive review of practices and procedures to identify actions and areas of improvement.
RQIA chair Christine Collins and chief executive Briege Donnelly attended the hearing.
The next public sitting of the inquiry will take place on Monday.