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Bad practices were allowed to persist at Muckamore Abbey Hospital, public inquiry is told

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Families of patients outside the inquiry

Families of patients outside the inquiry

Muckamore Abbey Hospital

Muckamore Abbey Hospital

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Families of patients outside the inquiry

The anger felt by families of Muckamore Abbey Hospital residents is understandable, a public inquiry has been told.

Opening the hearings, chair Tom Kark QC said it was “quite obvious bad practices were allowed to persist at the hospital”.

He told the hearing that if particular concerns were identified during the inquiry, an interim report with recommendations would be produced, meaning concerns can be addressed before the probe concludes.

He said: “The treatment and care of those with learning disabilities or mental illness, who are by their nature vulnerable, should be of a high quality and safe in any civilised society. To abuse people receiving such care is anathema to any competent and caring health professional.”

Mr Kark said the management of such facilities should be of the highest standard, and the practices of staff should “always be under scrutiny both internally and by external agencies”.

He continued: “What happened at Muckamore has been referred to as a scandal. Without pre-determining any issues, it’s quite obvious bad practices were allowed to persist at the hospital to the terrible detriment to a number of patients.

“Those patients were, without exception, highly vulnerable, so it is understandable there is considerable public anger.

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“[People] who entrusted their loved ones to the hospital to be cared for with compassion have discovered that in many cases that is not what was happening.

“Because so many of the patients were either non-verbal or had difficulty communicating, they couldn’t express what was happening.”

He said their “anger and upset is perfectly understandable” but he added the inquiry would require “cool and calm collection”.

Muckamore Abbey is already at the centre of the UK’s biggest ever police investigation into the abuse of vulnerable adults.

Some staff working at the hospital are alleged to have neglected and physically and mentally abused patients.

Detectives have viewed about 300,000 hours of CCTV footage from inside the hospital.

Police have arrested 34 people. So far, eight have been charged, and more than 70 staff have been suspended as a precaution.

Referring to the ongoing police probe, Mr Kark QC revealed witness testimony to the inquiry would not be used in any future criminal prosecutions.

He said he believes this will ensure the inquiry is able to uncover the truth about allegations. However, he stressed that people will not “be let off” as a result.

He explained: “Some time ago, I approached the Director of Public Prosecutions to ask him in a very limited way to give an indemnity for prosecution for witnesses giving evidence, and he has agreed to do so.”

Mr Kark QC said the inquiry has the power to demand that evidence and documents be provided by individuals and organisations.

He said a refusal to comply may lead to a referral to the High Court for contempt proceedings.

However, he said anyone asked to participate in the inquiry can refuse to provide evidence that may be incriminating.

“Our terms of reference include a requirement that we examine not only the abuse that occurred but also the circumstances which allowed abuse to occur,” he continued.

“Although I have power to direct witnesses to attend the inquiry and produce evidence, any witness is entitled to claim privilege against self-incrimination.

“No court or inquiry has the power to override that principle and so, if the right is exercised, the inquiry could be deprived of very important evidence.

“Indemnity, or the undertaking that has been granted, is that witnesses will not be prosecuted on the basis of written or oral evidence they give to this inquiry.

“It relates solely to evidence produced to this inquiry. It does not prevent the prosecution of any individual on the basis of any independent evidence, so no one will be let off who would otherwise have been prosecuted.

“It will allow the inquiry to receive evidence which it would not otherwise have received, and it means that no one will be able to claim the right of silence on the grounds that the evidence might incriminate them.

“It deprives them of that protection and it will allow me to insist on answers being given or risk referral to the High Court.”

Mr Kark QC also revealed that CCTV included in the police investigation will not immediately be viewed by all parties involved but will be available to the inquiry panel at the early stages of the public hearings.

The inquiry is due to continue today with an opening statement from counsel for the inquiry.


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