The Western Health Trust has apologised to the families of disabled people forced to share accommodation with the paedophile McDermott brothers at a Londonderry care unit.
The families yesterday said they accepted the apology issued over lack of communication on the decision to transfer the brothers to Brook Lodge disabled care facility at Gransha Park in the city.
Western Health and Social Care Trust officials confirmed at a heated meeting with the relatives at Gransha yesterday that they are now examining a range of other options to accommodate James and Owen Roe McDermott.
The two brothers presented to the trust last week voluntarily after agreeing to leave their home in Donagh, Co Fermanagh.
They had been accused of numerous criminal offences against children but were found to be mentally unfit to stand trial in June and placed under a two-year care and probation order.
The trust will announce its decision on whether it will relocate the brothers at a second meeting at the Destined learning disability organisation’s premises in Derry city centre on Tuesday at 11am.
In a statement issued through manager of Destined, Dermot O’Hara, following yesterday’s meeting, the families of the young adults, some of whom have the mental age of children, said: “This was a full and frank discussion around the issue of two brothers who have been convicted of sexual abuse being placed with vulnerable adults in the ward.
“The families welcomed an apology from the WHSCT for the lack of communication on the past with the families and the appreciation of the concern this issue has caused.”
Mr O’Hara said confidentiality issues prevented the families from discussing details of the options the trust will be examining to resolve the issue.
However he said: “The key demand for the families remains that these two are separated from the others.”
Mary Doherty from Shantallow, whose severely autistic son John (25) is one of the young adults at Brook Lodge, said: “It was a heated meeting but it was a good, positive meeting and the trust did say they would implement everything they could to protect our children.
“There was a lot of things we didn’t agree on and a lot we did agree on. We told them where we stand, that they need to move them — there is no other option as far as we are concerned.”
The Western Trust confirmed that its chief executive Elaine Way opened the meeting by “recognising the strength of feeling and concern and apologised for not communicating better with families last week when the McDermott brothers were first admitted”.
Trevor Millar, director of Adult Mental Health and Disability Services, said following the meeting: “We welcomed the opportunity to hear at first-hand the very real concerns of families and to explain the safeguarding measures we put in place.”
While emotions are running high in the push to have the McDermott brothers Owen Roe and James moved out of the Brook Lodge unit at Londonderry's Gransha Hospital, there is little that can be done at present.
The brothers were declared mentally unfit to testify when they and their two brothers were on trial for a litany of over 60 charges of paedophilia after being examined by psychologist and psychiatrists who reported to the trial judge their findings. As a result the trial judge was forced to let them return to their home in Donagh, Co Fermanagh where they were to be supervised.
However, after a public outcry they admitted themselves voluntarily to Gransha. As they went in voluntarily, the Western Trust, whose care they are now in, has no powers to detain them.
How long this impasse will last is uncertain, but Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has made it a matter of urgency to obtain Executive approval to “provide additional protections” to the existing Mental Health NO Order 1986 by making an interim amendment to the current definition of mental disorder.
What this means nobody at this point is absolutely certain, but it does look as if the Minister is trying to close a loophole that has caused widespread outrage in the North West and across Northern Ireland.
The families have gained the full backing of politicians from across the entire political spectrum over the past week.
Yesterday’s meeting bore this out with MPs, MLAs and councillors from the DUP, SDLP and Sinn Fein present and armed with questions for the Western Health Trust, while the UUP have also expressed concerns.
Speaking ahead of yesterday’s meeting, Derry City UUP councillor Mary Hamilton said the trust had many questions to answer. “I do not believe these people should be anywhere near there,” she said.
“People like that should be removed and isolated away from anybody — it’s certainly not right that they are around vulnerable people who are still children mentally.”
Speaking after attending the meeting at Lakeview Hospital in Gransha, SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan described it as “difficult but necessary” for the families. He said: “The families’ concerns weren’t going to be obviated by whatever professional assurances, professional judgments and risk assessments to come from the meeting because these people are concerned for their very vulnerable loved ones who don’t know or realise the risk that these men pose.”
His SDLP colleague, Derry City councillor Brenda Stevenson, added: “I am confident on behalf of the families that the trust will now be able to come up with solution that will safeguard the rights and responsibilities of these people in Lakeview at the moment.”
Sinn Fein West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty, who travelled to Derry for the meeting, suggested a rethink was in order for the trust.
He said: “I just think the health trust need to show a bit of common sense which clearly, to date, they haven’t.”
The 10 families thrust into the spotlight of the McDermott case yesterday gathered in the gloom as they waited to come face-to-face with the health officials who put two paedophiles among their vulnerable children.
The relatives — many of whom have found it difficult to eat or sleep over the past week — spoke of their anxiety and anger at the decision.
Banded by the common concern for their children, they explained why they felt the need to take on the Western Health and Social Care Trust.
It is now over a week since it emerged that Owen Roe and James McDermott had been placed at Brook Lodge — a care unit for the vulnerable. They had voluntarily left their Fermanagh home and placed themselves in the care of the trust.
On hearing the news, the relatives took just hours to act. Reeling from the shock, many began contacting media organisations, and on Monday they staged a public meeting.
The meeting brought all the families together in one room for the first time.
Speaking minutes before the talks with the trust yesterday, Theresa and Louis McGuinness from Greysteel, whose 21-year-old son Colm has been cared for the Brooke Lodge Learning Disabled Unit, said anxiety levels have been high.
Mrs McGuinness said: “The past week has been horrendous, really bad. It is one of the worst nightmares for any parent.”
Colm’s sister Laura O’Flaherty from Ballykelly added: “It’s a disgrace, a real disgrace. I can’t understand how they would think to put these men in with Colm and the others. It is hard enough for us Colm not being at home without them throwing these two in with them.”
Mary Doherty from Shantallow in Derry, whose severely autistic son John (25) is at the unit, agreed.
Describing the past week, she said: “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I seem to be moving on borrowed energy. My mind is working overtime. John has severe autism and he only speaks three words. If anything was to happen to any of them children some of them like him wouldn’t be able to speak about it. Some are in wheelchairs.”
Both Mary and Theresa took matters into their own hands on Wednesday and went into derry city centre with petitions urging people to back their campaign.
Such was the strength of feeling on the streets that two-and-a-half hours later they had collected 2,000 signatures.
Theresa said: “The support has been brilliant. Everybody is in the same frame of mind as us — that these boys shouldn’t be there now and should never have been put there.”
Mary added: “It was brilliant to get so many signatures — the people are behind us.”
Indeed there have been requests from all over the Western Trust area from workers at factories to community associations for more petitions, pointing to the sense of outrage.
Margaret Pollock from Dungiven, whose daughter Michelle (35) is one of those living at Brook Lodge, said they had been heartened by the wealth of support.
“People have been stopping me when I go shopping, we have had a lot of phonecalls. People are united behind us and the media as well have really helped us to highlight this because there are still a lot of people who do not know what is going on.
“People I have spoken to agree with me. These men should not be mixing with my daughter. My daughter is sharing the same sitting room with them and I am not happy about that at all.”
She added: “My daughter has a very low mental age. If you went and offered her a Milky Way she would give you a big hug. She trusts everybody and wants everybody to be her friend. It is a very worrying time.
“I have not slept. We have cared for our young ones for years and years but we never thought we would be confronted with this.”
As they trickled out from yesterday’s meeting, the families — virtual strangers a week ago — huddled under umbrellas in pairs and threes and vowed that, now strengthened in numbers, their campaign will continue until they feel satisfied their children are out of harm’s way.