Historic child abuse review could lead to new charges

The former Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
The former Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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Prosecutors are reviewing decades-old child abuse cases in a move that could lead to new charges being brought.

The Crown Office said a team had been set up to re-examine decisions made in the past about cases involving the abuse of children in care.

The details emerged as Scotland’s abuse inquiry heard allegations children died from injuries sustained during time spent at a notorious orphanage.

The inquiry yesterday heard from former residents of Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark, Lanarkshire, who said they had been subjected to physical and sexual abuse by nuns and lay staff.

One witness, referred to only as “David”, broke down as he told the inquiry he had seen a nun punch and kick his friend, Sammy Carr. The six-year-old died in hospital in 1964 and is among hundreds of children believed to be buried in an unmarked grave.

The inquiry, led by Lady Smith, is investigating the abuse of children in care at more than 60 institutions, including children’s homes and boarding schools.

It heard yesterday that Smyllum had become “shorthand for wicked abuse”, with children beaten, force fed and made to wear soiled bedsheets around their necks. It was alleged another resident, Francis McColl, who died of a brain haemorrhage in 1961, aged 13, had been hit on the head with a golf club by a member of staff and that deaths were “covered up”.

The orphanage, which closed in 1981, was run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.

Legal counsel for the Catholic order yesterday reiterated an earlier statement, offering a “most sincere and heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered any form of abuse while in our care”.

David said he entered the orphanage in 1959 aged two and would later have a “recurring nightmare” about the building.

He and Sammy had been playing with a match when he was around six years old, accidentally burning his hand.

He said: “It was unfortunate, but at that time the sister came around the corner and said ‘what’s wrong’ and I said ‘he burned my hand’ and she just grabbed him and started hitting him and punching him.

“He was on the floor and she was kicking him on his body and his head. I said ‘please sister, please don’t hurt him’. She stopped when I lay on top of him.”

The inquiry heard Sammy spent ten days in hospital before he died.

Police Scotland previously investigated the death and found no evidence of criminality.

David said he was sexually abused by a nun who rubbed his penis, and on a number of other occasions by a female member of staff.

He was later moved to a children’s home in Newcastle run by the same order of nuns where he said one of the sisters pinned him up against a wall and put a bread knife to his throat.

The inquiry also heard from “Fergie”, who was at Smyllum between 1960 and 1967.

She said children had been punched and slapped by nuns, who even on occasion used their crucifixes for administering corporal punishment.

Fergie said she was repeatedly force fed porridge by nuns until she was sick and was told she was the “devil’s spawn”.

A statement from the late campaigner Frank Docherty, who had waived his right to anonymity, was also read out.

He described how he turned to alcohol to help him deal with the anger he felt as a result of the “horrendous abuse” at Smyllum.

Describing a beating from one sister, he said: “I got the biggest doing of my life from a holy nun ... I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”

The inquiry, which has cost nearly £10 million to date, is expected to report in 2019.

John Scott QC, senior counsel for In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), said the name Smyllum will be “forever associated with suffering”.

He said:“The Smyllum way became shorthand for wicked abuse. The Smyllum way did not involve only one or two abusers. It involved many abusers and took place over decades.”

Solicitor Gregor Rolfe, counsel for the Daughters of Charity, reiterated the apology made by the order at the end of the first phase of the inquiry.

Mr Rolfe said a former lay member of staff had recently come forward with an allegation that a man volunteering at Smyllum abused two brothers in the 1970s. The allegation has now been reported to police, but did not appear to be investigated at the time. Mr Rolfe said: “There was a failure on the part of the order for which they apologise unreservedly.”

Martin Richardson, representing the Crown Office, confirmed a team of prosecutors is reviewing decisions taken in relation to cases involving the abuse of children in care.