Prosecutors reviewing claims of abuse at notorious orphanage

Smyllum House - the site of the former orphanage.  Picture: Sarah Peters
Smyllum House - the site of the former orphanage. Picture: Sarah Peters

Criminal charges could be brought against those alleged to have abused children at a notorious orphanage decades ago.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry heard that prosecutors are working with police to establish a “sufficiency of evidence” in relation to allegations of physical and sexual abuse at Smyllum Park in Lanarkshire, which closed in 1981.

The inquiry has heard evidence from former residents that children were routinely beaten, force-fed and humiliated for wetting the bed by being made to wear soiled sheets.

Trainee priests and a man later convicted of sexual offences against children were allowed unsupervised access to the young residents.

The inquiry has heard denials from a number of elderly nuns, the oldest aged 92, against whom allegations of abuse have been made.

In closing submissions yesterday for the current phase of the inquiry, the Crown Office said it was clear some of the alleged practices could be considered criminal and may yet lead to fresh prosecutions.

Martin Richardson QC, representing the lord advocate, said that, where appropriate, cases are being reinvestigated using modern investigative techniques “and consideration is being given as to whether or not a prosecution can and should now be brought”.

He said: “A number of the witnesses who gave evidence to the inquiry spoke about practices which, if proved following due process including a criminal trial, might well amount to a crime.”

Last week, Sister Ellen Flynn, head of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, which ran the orphanage, broke down as she said it was now “more than a possibility” that abuse had taken place.

Sister Flynn, who is not facing allegations of abuse, said the congregation had “failed to engage” with the complaints about Smyllum when they first emerged in 1998.

John Scott QC, representing In-Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), said the Daughters of Charity had shown a “sceptical attitude” and had offered “unconvincing” apologies.

He told the inquiry yesterday: “As we heard from some survivors who gave evidence, they are well aware of what the Daughters of Charity are saying, as opposed to what they claim to be saying.

“Survivors have heard no sincere and heartfelt apology, and therefore no apology at all.”

He added: “Despite the scepticism or denial of the Daughters of Charity, I suggest that it is absolutely clear that abuse happened in their homes.”

Mr Scott said there was “scarcely a cloud in the sky” in the version of events offered by the Daughters of Charity.

“The only establishment in Scotland where physical discipline or corporal punishment didn’t feature, at times when it would have been a feature in most or many homes,” he said.

The inquiry has heard there was a “culture of fear and intimidation” at the orphanage, where children were allegedly beaten with belts and hairbrushes.

The inquiry has previously heard how former resident Sammy Carr, six, died of a brain haemorrhage in 1964 as a result of an E.coli infection.

Another child, Patricia Meenan, 12, died after being hit by a car while attempting to run away in 1969, while Francis McColl died in 1961 aged 13 after accidentally being struck on the head by a golf club.

Gregor Rolfe, counsel for the Daughters of Charity, told Lady Smith the order is “horrified” by the accounts of people’s experiences, which have “rocked the community to its core”.

He said: “They offer their sincere and heartfelt apologies to those applicants and their family members who are dealing with the lifelong effects of the experiences they described.”

Public hearings for the inquiry will resume in April.