Northern Ireland

Muckamore Abbey Hospital: Timeline of abuse allegations

Image caption The hospital provides treatment for people with severe learning disabilities and mental health needs

The police and the health authorities are investigating allegations that vulnerable patients were physically and mentally abused by staff at Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

The hospital, on the outskirts of Antrim, is run by the Belfast Health Trust

It provides facilities for adults with severe learning disabilities and mental health needs.

Since allegations of abuse began to emerge in 2017, a number people have been arrested and several staff have been suspended from their jobs.

In August 2019, the police officer leading the investigation said CCTV footage revealed 1,500 crimes on one ward alone.

This is how the story has unfolded so far.

November 2017

Allegations of ill treatment of Muckamore residents began to surface.

It was revealed four staff members had been suspended and the BBC reported that the allegations "centred on the care of at least two patients".

The trust said an incident had come to light several months earlier.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said it was working with the trust on an investigation into the allegations.

Image caption In July last year, the trust said it had suspended a further nine staff and ordered a review of archived CCTV footage

July 2018

The Irish News reported details of CCTV footage allegedly showing ill treatment of patients.

The trust apologised "unreservedly" to patients and families and confirmed that a further nine members of staff had been suspended.

"As part of the ongoing investigation and a review of archived CCTV footage, a further number of past incidents have been brought to our attention in the past week," it said.

Image caption There are 80 patients and 500 members of staff at Muckamore Abbey Hospital

August 2018

The BBC reported that five vulnerable patients were assaulted by staff at Muckamore Abbey Hospital between 2014 and 2017.

When asked if anyone had been disciplined over the five assaults, confirmed to have taken place between 2014 and 2017, a trust spokesperson said it could not comment further as there was an ongoing investigation.

In response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request sent by BBC News NI, the trust confirmed that in hospital between 2014 and 2017 there had been more than 50 reported assaults on patients by staff, with five investigated and substantiated.

Image copyright Belfast Trust
Image caption The seclusion room used to contain patients at Muckamore was described by a patient's mother as "a dark dungeon"

December 2018

A catalogue of abuse and neglect is at Muckamore Abbey is revealed in a report leaked to the BBC.

The report charts a series of catastrophic failings at the hospital.

By this stage, 13 members of the nursing staff had been suspended and two senior nursing managers were on long-term sick leave

The review, A Way to Go, was commissioned by the Belfast Trust to examine safeguarding at the hospital between 2012 and 2017.

The report's authors included Dr Margaret Flynn, who oversaw the review into the 2012 Winterbourne View hospital scandal in England which saw six care workers jailed.

Among her findings were that patients' lives had been compromised at Muckamore, staff did not follow safeguarding protocols and that CCTV footage showed patients being harmed by staff.

The review also found that a seclusion room in the hospital was not monitored.

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Media captionMuckamore seclusion room was 'a dark dungeon'

Later in December, a mother of a severely-disabled Muckamore patient gave her first broadcast interview to BBC News NI.

She described the seclusion room her son was placed in as "a dark dungeon".

CCTV footage from the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) showed her son being punched in the stomach by a nurse.

The footage, taken over a three-month period, also showed patients being pulled, hit, punched, flicked and verbally abused by nursing staff.

The Belfast Trust said the seclusion room was still used in emergencies, but its use was being reviewed.

Parents told the BBC they wanted to see a public inquiry.

In an interview with BBC News NI, director of nursing Brenda Creaney admitted there had been a delay before the health trust began its investigation.

Image caption Detectives have been watching more than 300,000 hours of CCTV footage from the hospital

January 2019

The chair of Northern Ireland's biggest review into mental health services told BBC News NI the allegations emerging from Muckamore could be "the tip of the iceberg".

Prof Roy McClelland, who led the 2007 Bamford Review, said it was not just a matter of "bad apples in a barrel".

February 2019

The chief executive of the Belfast Health Trust, Martin Dillon tells the BBC "the buck rests with me" in his first interview on the Muckamore abuse allegations.

"Some of the care failings in Muckamore are a source of shame, but my primary focus is on putting things right," he said.

Image caption Belfast Health Trust chief Martin Dillon said "the buck rests with me"

August 2019

Northern Ireland's health regulator took action against the Belfast Trust over standards of care at Muckamore.

Three enforcement notices were issued by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) over staffing and nurse provision, adult safeguarding and patient finances.

In a statement to the BBC, the trust said it was trying to develop a model of care "receptive to the changing needs of patients".

Later in August, police investigating the abuse allegations said CCTV footage has revealed 1,500 crimes on one ward at Muckamore.

The incidents happened in the psychiatric intensive care unit over the course of six months in 2017-18.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, Det Ch Insp Jill Duffie said police were examining a series of "very traumatic events" seen in more than 300,000 hours of footage.

September 2019

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith apologises for the pain caused to families by the situation at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, during a meeting with the father of one of the patients.

Glynn Brown, whose son was allegedly assaulted by hospital staff, said he told Mr Smith that there must be a public inquiry into what has happened.

Mr Smith agreed to look into the matter further and to take advice about ordering a public inquiry.

October 2019

Dr Margaret Flynn, co-author of a damning review into Muckamore tells BBC News NI the hospital "needs to close".

Her December 2018 report identified a series of "catastrophic failings" and found that patients' lives had been compromised.

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Media captionDr Margaret Flynn says some patients were slapped

In her first interview since delivering her review, Dr Flynn said Muckamore residents had been manhandled and slapped on some occasions.

She said she was disappointed that the facility was still open.

In mid-October, police investigating abuse allegations make their first arrest in the Muckamore investigation.

A 30-year-old man was arrested by officers in Antrim on 14 October but he was later released on police bail.

Days later, it is revealed that Belfast Health Trust has spent £4m on agency staff in order to cover vacancies at Muckamore, because so many members of staff have been suspended during the abuse probe.

The current tally of suspensions on 18 October 2019 stands at 36.

Agency nurses are being drafted in from England and further afield to care for patients.

It is reported that they are being paid up to £40 an hour, compared to local hourly rates of £9.

November 2019

A 33-year-old man becomes the second person to be arrested in the Muckamore abuse investigation.

He was detained in Antrim on 11 November but was later released on police bail.

December 2019

Police make more arrests in the Muckamore abuse investigation.

A 33-year-old man was arrested in the Antrim area on the morning of 2 December.

The following day, officers said the man had been released on bail pending further inquiries.

In the same week, the Irish News reports four more suspensions, bringing the total number of Muckamore staff suspended by health authorities to 40.

The Belfast Health Trust confirms that all 40 employees have been "placed on precautionary suspension while investigations continue".

On 16 December, a 36-year-old woman became the fourth person to be arrested and questioned about ill-treatment of patients.

She was released on police bail the following day.

Shortly before Christmas, BBC News NI reveals that 39 patients who should have been discharged will have to stay at Muckamore Abbey Hospital because there are no suitable places for them in the community.

The same day, Northern Ireland's health regulator announces the results of a three-day unannounced inspection of Muckamore, including an overnight visit.

The RQIA inspection finds there have been "significant improvements" but it still has concerns about financial governance and safeguarding arrangements.

January 2020

Muckamore patients' families meet the new Health Minister, Robin Swann, following the restoration of Northern Ireland's devolved government.

Glynn Brown, spokesman for the campaign group Action for Muckamore, says he was disappointed that Mr Swann could not give them assurances that a full public inquiry would take place.

The meeting followed a fifth arrest in the abuse investigation.

A 34-year-old man was questioned before being released on police bail the following day, pending further inquiries.

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