A Post investigation has revealed some shocking details about the living conditions of children in institutions run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.
A witness, who cannot be named, told the inquiry his friend was kicked on the body and head by the Catholic sister. The witness, who is now a man, also said that in the 1960s he was sexually abused by a nun and another lay member of staff and beaten for bedwetting and not eating his food at Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark, Lanarkshire.
He was giving evidence at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry which began a new phase of hearings in Edinburgh on Tuesday. It is hearing evidence about institutions run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, which has issued an apology to anyone abused in their care.
The witness entered the orphanage in 1959 when he was aged around two. He said that beatings at the institution were routine, and that on one occasion when he was aged around six his friend was beaten after playing with a match.
He said: “It was unfortunate but at that time the sister came around the corner and said what’s wrong and I said ‘he burned my hand’ and she just grabbed him and started hitting him and punching him. He was on the floor and she was kicking him on his body and his head. I said ‘please sister, please don’t hurt him’. She stopped when I lay on top of him.”
He said he next saw his friend in the sick room and the inquiry heard the boy was in hospital for around 10 days before he died.
A BBC and Sunday Post investigation earlier this year found that at least 400 children from Smyllum Park are thought to be buried in an unmarked grave at the town’s St Mary’s Cemetery. The orphanage was home to more than 10,000 children between its opening in 1864 and closing in 1981. Prosecutors have said there is no evidence that a crime has been committed at the orphanage in relation to reports of the mass grave.
The witness also told how children who wet the bed were made to stand with the wet sheets round their neck in the morning, and were also hit for bedwetting. The inquiry later heard from a woman who entered Smyllum Park in 1960 as a baby and left when she was seven or eight. She told how children who wet the bed would be dragged out of bed and put in a cold bath.
“(You were) battered for wetting the bed and told you were immoral,” she said. “Whatever they had to hand, they hit you with it.”
She also told how siblings or other children would be made to watch the beatings “as an example”. The witness described one nun at the institution as “behaving like a psychotic nutter” and said her demeanour was “like pure evil”.
A statement from the late campaigner Frank Docherty, who had waived his right to anonymity, was also read out at the inquiry. He described how he turned to alcohol in his earlier years to help him deal with the anger he felt as a result of the “horrendous abuse” at Smyllum Park.
Describing a beating from one sister, he said: “I got the biggest doing of my life from a holy nun… I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.”
He told how children who wet the bed were treated like the “scum of the earth”. His statement also referred to the death of a boy days after he was seen being hit by a nun. He said the death was covered up.
In opening statements to the inquiry on Tuesday John Scott QC, senior counsel for In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), said the name Smyllum will be “forever associated with suffering”.