Leader comment: Child abuse inquiry's first report is a call to action

Never again can we allow vulnerable children in need of care to be subjected to the sexual, physical and emotional abuse described in the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry's first report.
The former Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)The former Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
The former Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

“For many children who were in Smyllum and Bellevue, the homes were places of fear, coercive control, threat, excessive discipline and emotional, physical and sexual abuse, where they found no love, no compassion, no dignity and no comfort.”

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry’s first report – and there will be more – makes grim reading.

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Children whose lives were such that they had to be taken into ‘care’ found the very opposite at two institutions, Smyllum Park in Lanark and Bellevue House in Rutherglen, run by a Catholic religious order called the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.

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Sexual abuse was carried out by priests, sisters, staff members, a volunteer and visitors to the homes; physical abuse, using leather straps, sticks and even wooden crucifixes, was so common that “being hit was a normal aspect of daily life”; and emotional abuse was “an established aspect of the regime. It was designed to hurt and belittle children. It was very cruel”.

Children were abused for being left-handed, for being Protestants and one was told that “Jewishness would be knocked out of him whilst he was being beaten”. High-achieving children were “denigrated” rather than praised. If it is hard to read Lady Smith’s report, and it is, how much harder must it have been for the children affected to endure such a living hell? While it was a hell created by people who professed to be Christians, do not for a moment think that child abuse is restricted to a particular faith. The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry’s remit includes boarding schools, medical establishments and other care homes and it seems certain to uncover further evidence of such utterly appalling inhumanity.

Lady Smith, who should be praised for her handling of a complex, difficult and emotional inquiry, said she would take into account the findings made to date when she makes her recommendations in the final report.

In publishing this first report, she has vindicated claims of people who suffered much and yet were ignored for far too long. Compensation for them and prosecutions should now follow as soon as is possible.

Beyond those immediate concerns, steps should be taken to ensure that never again will some of the most vulnerable children in Scotland be subjected to such horrific treatment, the word ‘care’ so despicably corrupted.