Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry: Children’s home was like ‘prison camp’

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A man who spent two years in hospital after being subjected to cold baths for wetting his bed in a children’s home has described the institution as a “prison camp”.

Thomas Hagan, 82, was a resident at Quarrier’s Village in Renfrewshire between 1938 and 1952 and said it “ruined” his life. The late-19th century development consisted of dozens of orphan homes which were run by a “house mother” and “house father”.

Mr Hagan waived his right to anonymity in a written statement to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI).

In the statement he described how his house father would beat him with a leather belt then put him in a cold bath if he wet the bed.

He said the baths would “turn his legs blue” and he thought he could die.

The witness said: “He did this to me every night because I would wet the bed nearly every night.

“I would lie in bed scared because he would batter me.”

Mr Hagan said he tried to tell others and he was eventually taken to a nearby sanatorium - aged six or seven - when he collapsed after being pulled from a cold bath.

He returned to Quarriers after lengthy treatment and said he was continually beaten as he still wet the bed.

Mr Hagan said: “I don’t have baths now, I’m too nervous, so I just sponge down.

“I don’t think I’ve had a bath since I left Quarriers.”

The witness remained at the home until 1952 and said he saw other attacks on children at the site.

“I felt it was like a prison camp,” he said.

“At Christmas you would get one present but they (house parents) would throw the presents into the fire one by one after two weeks.

“I hope that things have changed and what happened to me could not happen in the care system now.

“It was a terrible life. They ruined our lives.”

The inquiry later heard from a woman who lived in Quarriers from 1968 until 1970 when she left aged 11.

The witness, who cannot be identified, said she was beaten by her house mother with a wet towel on her first day in care and attacks continued weekly.

On one occasion when she rejected a bowl of stew she said she was force-fed the meal even when she had vomited some of it up.

The same bowl of stew was given to her at each meal for three days until she threw it away.

“I got quite a beating after that,” she said.

“They stripped me naked then thumped me with a wet towel on the back of the legs, the buttocks and the back.

“When I cried she tightened the towel around my neck until I passed out. He then threw a bucket of cold water over me to make sure I wasn’t dead.”

She said the same kind of attack took place one Christmas Day after a fight with other children.

A statement was also read from Doris Walker who worked at Quarriers as a house mother’s helper for a month in 1968.

She thought it would be good experience before a career in teaching but found it a “damaging environment”.

In her statement Ms Walker said she saw the house mother hit children, including one boy with a tin of fruit.

She said: “I’m appalled to say I was frightened of her. I don’t know why someone who so obviously didn’t like children was in charge of them.”

The inquiry continues.