Nun accused of child abuse ‘destroyed’ diaries

Lady Smith, who is chairing the inquiry. Photo:Nick Mailer.
Lady Smith, who is chairing the inquiry. Photo:Nick Mailer.
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An elderly nun accused of abusing children at an orphanage more than 50 years ago has said she destroyed her own written records of that time.

Giving evidence under the pseudonym “Sister Josephine”, the 85-year-old nun said she had kept diaries when she worked at Smyllum Park in Lanarkshire between 1967 and 1981, but didn’t keep them.

The nun, who gave evidence to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry from behind a screen to protect her anonymity, denied ever hitting a child and rebutted allegations boys were humiliated for bed-wetting and made to line up to have their underpants inspected for signs of being soiled.

Led by Lady Smith, the inquiry has heard allegations of abuse from a number of former residents of the home, which was run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul until its closure in 1981.

The inquiry has previously heard of poor record-keeping at the orphanage, but Sister Josephine said she kept diaries detailing things that happened during the course of the day.

The nun said that at the end of each year, she would take out the most important information and “destroy” the diary.

Asked why, she said: “I took out of it what I needed, what I thought was important.”

Sister Josephine said she also kept medical and dental records for every child in her care, which were passed to the Mother Superior when she left.

The nun was read evidence from a former resident called “Pat” who described Smyllum as “grim” and said he was treated like a “leper” for wetting the bed.

In his statement, Pat said: “You were just hoping you weren’t going to get slapped or punched or beaten that day for any particular reason”.

The sister replied: “It’s not true. It was a very happy place and it was always bright.”

Sister Josephine said she remembered the witness but denied boys were humiliated for wetting the bed; made to queue up to have their underpants checked or have their fingernails cleaned with a cocktail stick.

Asked by Colin MacAulay QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, if there had been physical punishment at Smyllum, the nun said: “No, there wasn’t. There wasn’t anything happened that [the children] needed to be punished physically.”

The nun was also asked about Patricia Meenan, 12, who died after being hit by a car while attempting to run away from Smyllum in 1969.

Asked if other children had attempted to run away, Sister Josephine said: “That was the only time. I didn’t have any others run away.”

The inquiry also heard from Sister Cecilia Dowd, 75, who said she would occasionally “slap” a child on the bottom for misbehaving.

She said she hadn’t seen any abuse during her time at Smyllum in the late 1960s, describing the orphanage as a “happy” place.

But asked by Lady Smith whether children had been hit across the knuckles with a hairbrush as described in her written statement, she replied: “Maybe.”

Sister Dowd said that with hindsight, she wished the nuns had been “more attentive to the physical and emotional needs of the children”.

Lawyers for the Daughters of Charity last year offered a “most sincere and heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered any form of abuse while in our care”.

The inquiry continues.