Nun denies children were abused at Smyllum Park orphanage

An elderly nun has denied abusing children in her care at a notorious orphanage more than fifty years ago.

Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark
Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark

“Sister Carol”, 92, told the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry that Smyllum Park in Lanark was a “happy” place during her time there in the late 1950s and early 1960s and agreed that allegations of abuse were “pure invention”.

Speaking behind a screen and using a pseudonym to protect her anonymity, the nun rejected claims she had personally beaten, force-fed and humiliated boys at the home.

Led by Lady Smith, the inquiry has been hearing evidence from former residents of Smyllum who allege they were routinely beaten and made to wear soiled sheets around their necks after wetting the bed.

Yesterday it emerged the inquiry – which is investigating more than 60 institutions including leading boarding schools and residential homes run by religious groups – has cost almost £12 million, including more than £2m spent in the last three months of 2017.

Before beginning her evidence, Sister Carol was warned about the danger of self-incrimination and told her answers could be used in evidence against her.

The inquiry heard that despite having no training in childcare, the nun was responsible for around 90 boys.

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But she said she had never witnessed cruelty or abuse during her time at the orphanage. “I was shocked when I saw the list of things I was accused of,” she said.

“I would not dream of doing that and if I did, I would have it on my conscience to the end of my days.”

Last week, the inquiry heard from former resident William Whicher, 69, who said he was regularly beaten by the nun, on one occasion losing part of a tooth.

Mr Whicher told journalists the nun would have to “answer to God” for what she had done.

Asked about the alleged abuse yesterday, Sister Carol said: “No. I did none of that; nothing like that happened.

“They must have hated me to say all this stuff.

“If I broke his tooth, I would know about it. I would not have been able to forget these things.”

Asked about evidence from another former resident who alleged the nun had on one occasion “kicked me all the way to her office,” she said: “No, I never kicked a child in my life.”

Sister Carol also denied that children were humiliated for wetting the bed by being made to wear soiled sheets and take cold baths, but said there were “marvellous” hot showers.

The inquiry has previously heard evidence about Francis McColl who died aged 13 after accidentally being struck on the head by a golf club during his time at the orphanage.

Asked if there had been a lack of supervision when the incident took place, Sister Carol said: “I don’t know.”

On the subject of Sammy Carr, six, a resident of Smyllum who died of a brain haemorrhage in 1964, she said he was buried in Lanark and not in a “communal grave”.

Media reports have claimed potentially hundreds of children who were resident at Smyllum are buried in a mass grave at St Mary’s Cemetery in Lanark.

Asked by Colin MacAulay QC, counsel to the inquiry, if she thought the allegations of abuse were “pure invention”, Sister Carol agreed.

She said: “(Smyllum) was a very happy place. They [the children] were really happy. They might forget they were, but there were happy times. We were all happy – there was a lovely atmosphere.”

Asked how she would explain why allegations of abuse are now being made, she said: “I think the reason is they were all hurt by things that happened to them in their they got older, they had to blame someone.”

The inquiry also heard from “Sister Nora”, who is not facing allegations of abuse.

The 79-year-old, who looked after girls at Smyllum between 1958 and 1961, said she had seen herself as a “mother figure and a friend”.

She said there was “no need” for her to use punishment at the institution.

Asked why she thought allegations of abuse had been made, she said: “I really feel some of [the former residents] have not grown up.

“We all have things we would like not to have happened to us...”

Sister Nora said many of the children had suffered an “awful impoverishment” in the early years of their lives which they had been unable to get over as adults.

Lawyers for the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, which ran Smyllum until it closed as a children’s home in 1981, last year offered a “most sincere and heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered any form of abuse while in our care”.

The inquiry continues.