Sister Ellen Flynn, leader of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul in Great Britain, told the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry her congregation could find “no evidence” of abuse taking place at Smyllum Park in Lanark, South Lanarkshire.
The inquiry, led by Lady Smith, heard more than 4,000 children passed through the home between 1930 and its closure in 1981.
Former residents have alleged the sisters administered severe beatings at Smyllum, where the bodies of up to 100 orphans lie in an unmarked grave.
Asked by Colin MacAulay QC, the senior counsel to the inquiry, if she accepted children had been abused at Smyllum, Sr Flynn said: “The first view is that we are extremely saddened that accusations were made. We are very apologetic, but in our records we can find no evidence or anything that substantiates the allegations.”
Asked what her reaction would be if the allegations were proved to be true, she said: “If true, it tells us there was a systemic failure, but we have no evidence there was.”
Sr Flynn said she had spoken to surviving nuns from the school, none of whom had witnessed any abuse taking place.
Asked by Lady Smith if she had any explanation of why the allegations had been made, Sr. Flynn said: “Not right now. I would need to study the information a bit more closely than I have done.
“It’s a mystery at the moment. I can’t really offer you any more than that.”
She added: “I would not expect sisters to behave in that way. Some of it may have been the product of the time, but I would be very reluctant to think any of ours sisters carried out any of the activities I have read because it’s cruel.”
The inquiry heard how neither the sisters nor lay staff at the school had qualifications for looking after children until they began to undertake childcare courses in the late 1960s.
As well as a small group of nuns, the school employed between 30 to 35 people as childcare workers, nurses, laundry workers and handymen, all of whom could access the children unaccompanied.
The inquiry also heard that in the early part of the century it had been “common practice” to separate siblings.
While the inquiry heard that “some very good archival evidence” exists in relation to Smyllum, it was told there are no records of punishments which were handed out.
The inquiry continues.