A PUBLIC inquiry is now underway into allegations of abuse of patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital on the outskirts of Antrim.
The hospital, a major employer in the town for decades, is run by the Belfast Health Trust and provides facilities for adults with special needs.
A major police investigation began in 2017 after allegations of ill-treatment at Muckamore began to emerge.
With the terms of reference agreed, the inquiry panel will begin trying to establish what happened between residents and some members of staff, and also examine management’s role.
Seven people are facing prosecution and there have been more than 20 arrests since the allegations first surfaced..
It was announced in June 2021 that the inquiry will be chaired by Tom Kark QC, who played a key role in the 2010 inquiry into avoidable deaths at Stafford Hospital in England.
Speaking on Monday, Mr Kark said it was: “A significant date for all those patients and families who have been affected by the issues under examination by the inquiry, many of whom have campaigned very hard to ensure this inquiry takes place.
“I want to reassure you that a thorough and impartial investigation will be carried out by the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry,” he added.
“Over the coming weeks the inquiry team and I will be continuing the work, which has already started, including finalising our premises in central Belfast, and preparing for the public hearings which we hope to start in the spring of next year.”
Mr Kark said a number of ‘engagement events’ would be held to explain the work of the inquiry and ‘to encourage people to come forward’.
He said the events had been arranged for Antrim, Newry, Coleraine, Belfast and Londonderry, between and October 13 and 20, with a ‘virtual session’ also planned.
These can be booked on the inquiry’s website.
“It is important that all those who have information, of whatever nature, come forward as early as possible and engage with the inquiry,” Mr Kark said.
“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.”
The inquiry is to be wholly independent and not accountable to the Department of Health, the Stormont Executive, the Northern Ireland Assembly or any public body.
The core objectives are defined as “to examine the issue of abuse of patients at Muckamore Abbey Hospital (MAH), to determine why the abuse happened and the range of circumstances that allowed it to happen and ensure that such abuse does not occur again at MAH or any other institution providing similar services in Northern Ireland”.
Glynn Brown, whose son Aaron had been a patient at Muckamore, said he welcomed the fact that the inquiry process was ‘finally getting under way’.
“We expect it to deliver recommendations and for those recommendations to be implemented,” he said.
“The worst thing would be for any subsequent findings to gather dust on a Stormont shelf.
“Radical reform is required at Muckamore. But there must also be accountability.”
For more about the Muckamore allegations, see page 13.