Nun 'killed' child at Smyllum orphanage

Thousands of children passed through Smyllum before it closed in 1981
Thousands of children passed through Smyllum before it closed in 1981
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A young boy died after being badly beaten by a nun at a notorious orphanage likened to a concentration camp, an inquiry has heard.

A former resident of Smyllum Park in Lanark told the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry he heard the child being repeatedly struck and then never saw him again, finding out years later he had died.

Smyllum, which was run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul until its closure in 1981, is one of around 60 institutions being investigated by the inquiry.

Hundreds of former child residents are believed to be buried in an unmarked grave at the nearby St Mary’s Cemetery.

Yesterday the inquiry heard that children were physically and sexually assaulted and that one boy was told by a nun that he had killed his own mother.

The witness, referred to only as “Chief”, entered Smyllum in 1952 following the death of his parents.

He broke down while recounting how a nun had repeatedly called him “mum killer”, leading him to believe he had in fact killed his mother. He was in his 20s before he learned he had not been responsible for his mother’s death.

Asked if he had believed the nun, he said: “Yes, because I had nobody to talk to, nobody to ask. I believed her because she was a nun.”

He also told the inquiry he had heard a boy being beaten “quite badly” behind closed curtains. “We heard slap, slap, slap, and ‘shut up’, ‘shut up’. It was one of the nuns,” he said.

“The next day [the boy] didn’t show up. We all cheered because we thought he had got a family and he was away.

“It wasn’t until I saw the paper, the Sunday Post, that I found out he died, or he was killed.”

The inquiry heard from another witness, “Dexter”, who likened one of the nuns to “Stalin” and said children were assigned numbers like prisoners at the Belsen concentration camp.

Dexter, who was at Smyllum from 1946-58, said he only learned later that he had a brother at the home who had died of pneumonia and was buried “like a dog” in an unmarked grave.

Speaking from behind a screen, he told the inquiry of the “evil” nun who beat the boys, forced them to swallow Epsom salts and made them bathe in disinfectant.

She was a nun who ran the place like a “medieval kingdom,” he said, acting like a “saint on a Sunday and a devil during the week”.

The inquiry also heard from “John”, who said the same nun had repeatedly beaten him with a wooden pointer and her hairbrush and called him the “Devil’s disciple”.

Asked how long the beatings would last, he said: “Three or four minutes, sometimes ten minutes. She just went into a frenzy. I thought there was something mentally wrong with her.”

John said he told a police officer, a social worker and members of his own family about the abuse but was never believed. He was beaten by his grandfather after telling him the bruises covering his body were from attacks carried out by nuns.

“He went for me,” John said. “He didn’t believe me. He was old school Catholic – these people were God.”

He said the nuns had smashed his younger brother’s pelvis after throwing him onto a cast iron bed.

Colin MacAulay QC, counsel to the inquiry, put to John the nuns’ position that corporal punishment was not used at Smyllum and that they were “kind” to the children.

He replied: “They are dirty liars.” On Tuesday, legal counsel for the Daughters of Charity reiterated an earlier statement, offering a “most sincere and heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered any form of abuse while in our care”.

The inquiry continues.