Inquiry finds vulnerable children were abused by nuns and priests

Children were physically and sexually abused by nuns and priests over many years at homes run by a Catholic religious order, an inquiry has found.

Former Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark. Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Former Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark. Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry said children were beaten, force-fed and humiliated at two institutions run the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul – Smyllum Park in Lanark and Bellevue House in Rutherglen.

Delivering the inquiry’s first report based on evidence it has heard, judge Lady Smith said vulnerable children who should have received love, compassion and dignity were instead subjected to “fear, coercive control, threat and excessive discipline”.

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Lady Smith said children had been sexually abused by priests, Sisters, members of staff and a volunteer, sometimes for “prolonged” periods of time. And she said the order’s failure to keep adequate records of the children in its care was a “serious failure”.

Burial records show between 1900 and 1981 there were 16 children under the age of 18 who were recorded as having been residents at Smyllum buried in the “Smyllum Plot” within the cemetery of St Mary’s Parish Church in Lanark. There is no record of the individual lairs and there are no headstones to mark them.

Lady Smith said: “To children ‘home’ should mean a safe place where they know they will find unconditional loving care provided by adults they can trust; a place they will find light whenever life outside has grown dark; a place which does not fill them with fear; a place where they will not suffer abuse.

“The provision, by the order, of homes for the residential care of children in a way which routinely and consistently met that description would have been in keeping with their mission and with Christ’s teaching. Sadly, I have, in the light of the evidence, concluded that that did not happen.”

The national inquiry, which has so far cost £15.7 million, is investigating the abuse of children in care at institutions, including homes, boarding schools and medical establishments. Yesterday’s report follows 20 days of evidence heard between November and January from 54 witnesses and a further 21 written statements, including from survivors who died before being able to give evidence in person.

The report focuses on the residential care for children provided by the Daughters of Charity between 1917 and the closure of Smyllum in 1981.

Lady Smith said the order had made a “significant contribution” to childcare in Scotland over many decades, with about 20,000 accommodated between 1864 and 1999.

The judge said children were routinely beaten with implements including leather straps, the Lochgelly Tawse, hairbrushes, sticks, rosary beads, wooden crucifixes and a dog’s lead. Many children were force-fed even as they vomited and it was routine to humiliate bed-wetters by making them wear soiled sheets. Lady Smith said when sexual abuse was carried out by those not employed in the homes it occurred because the perpetrator was trusted by the nuns and allowed unsupervised access to the children.

The report found Samuel Carr, six, died at Smyllum in 1964 after contracting an E.coli infection after contact with a rat. He had received a severe beating from a nun not long before his death. Another resident, Francis McColl, died the same year aged 13 after an accident in which he was struck with a golf club.

Patricia Meenan died age 12 in 1969 after being struck by a car while attempting to run away from the home.

A fourth child, David Carberry, died in 1955 aged four from bronchopneumonia. His brother told the inquiry he still does not know where David is buried. Alan Draper, a spokesman for In-Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), said: “Christ emphasised the need for care, compassion and love. What Lady Smith has indicated in her report is that the care of vulnerable children at Smyllum was the opposite. The abuse was committed by people who were expected to follow Christ’s example.”

He added: “What is needed now is for the organisations responsible to not just apologise, but to ensure that there is full accountability by handing over all records to the prosecution agencies and advising their insurers and legal advisers to compensate all those who have suffered.”

In a statement, the Daughters of Charity said: “Lady Smith’s findings describe events and practices which are totally out of keeping with the fundamental values which underpin our life and mission and we are committed to giving this report our utmost attention. We most sincerely offer our heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered.”