A 10-year-old boy being cared for on an adult ward at Muckamore Abbey Hospital came home with two unexplained black eyes, a public inquiry has been told.
The father of Michael Overend, also called Michael, waived his right to anonymity as he described his concerns about his son’s care to the Muckamore Abbey Hospital Inquiry, stating: “My son is a totally innocent child.”
He continued: “I believe Michael was assaulted and neglected by staff at Muckamore.”
Mr Overend told the inquiry this morning that his son was first admitted to the facility in 1989 when he was just nine years old.
Michael, who is now 42, has profound learning difficulties and autism, he is blind and deaf, and he was also diagnosed with self-injurious behaviour — whereby a person harms themselves in ways such as eye-poking and head banging — as a child.
The inquiry panel was told that, on June 8, 1990, Michael’s mum rang Muckamore to enquire about bringing him home for a visit but was told his “face was a bit of a mess” and she should “just leave him for a few days”.
Mr Overend said: “We knew straight away something had happened.
“As soon as Michael’s mother put the phone down, the two of us looked at each other and said, ‘I smell a rat.’
“Within seconds, she was on the phone to a relative about getting a lift up to see Michael.”
Mrs Overend went to Muckamore that evening and returned with Michael.
Mr Overend said that as soon as he saw his son, he noticed he had two black eyes.
The inquiry was shown photographs taken of the youngster which showed heavy bruising around both eyes.
Mr Overend continued: “It took some time for him to come around. You could see the fear in his eyes.
“We made a fuss of him and gave him lots of kisses and cuddles. I felt devastated when I saw the black eyes. He can’t defend himself.
“I know he didn’t give himself the black eyes. He often hit himself on the jaw, but he never gave himself black eyes.”
Mr Overend said his immediate reaction was to report his son’s injuries to the police: “I was so angry. My exact words were, ‘I’m not going to let the b*****ds away with this.’”
However, Mr Overend told the inquiry his wife begged him not to contact police and said if they “get police involved, they will never take him back [to Muckamore] and there is nowhere else for him to go”.
Counsel for inquiry Sean Doran QC asked Mr Overend if he opted against contacting police due to the “fear factor”.
Mr Overend replied: “The talk at the time, everyone knew Muckamore was a place to be feared.
“Even when we went there at the start, we heard people talk about Muckamore and what happens there, but we couldn’t do anything about it as there was nowhere else for him to go, full stop.”
Mr Overend said that when he brought Michael back to Muckamore several days later, a member of staff made an unsolicited comment, explaining that night staff hadn’t noticed his son’s black eyes.
The unidentified Muckamore staff member further shouted across the room that the injuries were only noticed by the morning staff and that he would trust the nurse caring for Michael “with anyone”.
The inquiry was also told the family still does not know how Michael sustained two black eyes, as hospital notes state they occurred as a result of an unwitnessed incident and it was not known when or where he was when he was injured.
An accident report also made no mention of the black eyes, only that Michael had injured his jaw, which is something Mr Overend only discovered years later when he carried out his own investigation.
Mr Overend also told the inquiry about a meeting with two representatives from the mental health commission to discuss his concerns about his son.
He said one of them threw pictures of Michael with two black eyes onto the coffee table and dismissed them as “only a couple of black eyes”.
Mr Overend told the inquiry the man then turned to his colleague and said: “Come on, we have another two of these to do before lunch.”
He also said that if the family did not inform Muckamore they were coming to see Michael, he would be wearing adult clothing, four to six sizes too large, when they arrived.
“I remember one time he had a very large green rugby-style T-shirt so big it was down to his knees,” he explained.
He also told the inquiry that, for a period of weeks in 1995, Michael began coming home in a drugged-up state, describing his son as a “zombie”.
He continued: “He sat on the sofa, he didn’t know where he was, he couldn’t hold a sandwich.”
Mr Overend said this continued for a number of weeks until he and his wife told staff at the hospital their son “wasn’t coming home in that state any more”.
The witness told the inquiry he does not know who was in charge of the medication his son was receiving at the time.
At the age of 16 or 17, Michael was moved to a different ward at the hospital and Mr Overend told the hearing that his wife would ring regularly for updates.
He said on one occasion she was told that Michael was “doing well, eating and happy”.
However, when Mr Overend arrived at Muckamore the following day, he discovered Michael lying on the ground sobbing in a recreation room with other patients.
Mr Overend said a member of staff was trying to lift Michael up and, when he asked her what was happening, she told him his son had been upset for three days.
“I knew then the ward sister had told us a lie that Michael was doing really well,” he continued.
“I was disgusted and heartbroken. If I thought someone would have listened I would have reported it.”
The public hearings have now paused for summer recess and are due to resume again in September.