Muckamore Abbey Hospital inquiry: Brother of patient breaks down in tears

The Muckamore Abbey hospital inquiry has heard for the first time from a patient who was resident in the care facility for ten years who described the staff as 'excellent.' The 62-year-old who has special educational needs was referred to as P7 and was in Muckamore between August 2006 and 2016. His statement was read to the Inquiry and then he was questioned briefly by counsel for the Inquiry Sean Doran QC. He said he 'never saw anything bad being done to other patients by staff.' He said he saw some residents attack staff and then be restrained but that in his words 'it was not done in a vicious way' and 'it didn't happen very often.' P7 said he would sometimes be bullied and harrassed - by other patients. He would be called names and accused of things he didn't do but that the staff did help him. He did say he was glad to get out of Muckamore and into a nursing home as Muckamore was like a 'prison cell' and by that he meant 'all the doors were locked, you couldn't get out.'

When asked further about this, he said he 'found it strange but he got used to it'. Earlier in the day, the brother of a patient spoke emotionally about his sibling's time there between 1972 and the early 2000s. The witness' first name was given as Robert. His brother - the patient's name - was given as Joe who has learning disabilities and schizophrenia. Robert described the chaotic childhood they experienced. They were put into care from a young age and were in training schools and spent short spells in prison. Joe who is now 72 was transferred from jail to Muckamore at the age of 20 - over fifty years ago. Robert said he would visit regularly to bring him cigarettes and sweets but stayed in the grounds. He said he was only in his room once or twice which he described as small with a bed screwed to the wall. He worked in the kitchen and said he did like some of the staff. He was always washed and dressed and had cigarette stains on his clothes. In later years however there seems to have been a change according to the witness' testimony. Joe told his brother of an incident where he was taunted and 'pushed about' by a male member of staff 'making fun of him which Joe did not like'. Joe headbutted the member of staff and was restrained in his room which he described as a 'cell'. He spent varying degrees of time between resettlement homes and Muckamore but when he got into a nursing home Joe told his brother he was adamant he would not go back to Muckamore. Asked about what happened Robert said Joe repeatedly told him: 'You don't talk' or 'You don't tell'. Robert recalled how he got a phone call from a member of staff when the abuse allegations were emerging to tell him 'the stuff he was seeing on the TV was in another unit'. Robert broke down in tears blaming himself for not helping Joe sooner. 'I should have known, I should have picked up on it. I didn't pick up on it,' he told the inquiry At which point the chairman of the inquiry Tom Kark QC thanked Robert for his testimony.

He said he understood how exceptionally difficult it was and how important it is for the inquiry 'to see Joe as a human being and not just a patient'.

Joe is now in a nursing home where his brother said 'he doesn't worry about him he knows he's in the best of hands'.

Joe concluded his testimony by describing Joe as a 'big giant' but a 'big softie' and thanked the inquiry for 'being on his side'.

Composing himself he made a point of clearly repeating to the Inquiry: 'Thank you for being on Joe's side'.

The police are conducting a separate investigation which is understood to the the largest criminal safeguarding probe of its kind in the UK.

They are currently looking at 300,000 hours of CCTV which they say equates to more than 34 years in duration.

34 people have been arrested. 12 were interviewed voluntarily under caution. All 46 have been referred to the PPS.

Eight people have so far been charged.

Belfast Health Trust say 83 members of staff have been suspended. A further 68 are under supervision and training.

They have also issued an 'unreserved and unequivocal apology'.