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Woman tells of toll of giving evidence to abuse probe

Kate Walmsley

Kate Walmsley

A woman abused while resident at a children’s home in Northern Ireland has said she was left suicidal after telling her story before a public inquiry.

Kate Walmsley, 58, was in an institution in Londonderry from 1964 to 1969, having been admitted as a young child. She recalled being targeted aged eight by a priest in a confessional box while under the care of the Sisters of Nazareth order of Catholic nuns.

The UK’s largest child abuse inquiry so far is to resume again next week. A retired High Court judge is chairing the probe and took harrowing evidence from Ms Walmsley earlier this year.

She said: “It was reliving a nightmare and then being told horrible things about yourself.

“I just thought that I had spoiled my chance, the only chance in my life to get some sort of healing and they have ruined it.

“I ended up being suicidal and thinking I have wasted that day, the special day.”

She learned during the public hearing that she was abandoned by her parents when very young and other details surrounding her admission to the Nazareth House residential home.

“It was very hard because all my life the nuns told me my mother and father did not want me because they could not be bothered.

“I thought my parents did not want me because I broke up their marriage.”

She learned that nuns claimed she was a bad child.

“I thought all my life I was bad. I blamed myself for being sexually abused. I ended up with bulimia, all my life I kept trying to vomit up my mortal sin.”

She said abuse survivors needed support and the inquiry had to show greater awareness of their feelings. She was directed towards the Lifeline, a crisis response helpline, but felt this was not enough.

“I don’t know why they put us through this because I really felt that I did not want anyone else to go through what I was going through.”

She added: “Maybe we don’t have anybody belonging to us but our feelings and emotions, they really, really hurt. They are putting us through all this and in the middle of it you are learning new things.”

A range of other NHS supports is in place, including the Minding Your Head website for those worried about poor mental health.

A statement issued by the inquiry said: “All our staff are committed to helping each applicant thorough the process as sensitively and compassionately as possible. This has been acknowledged by applicants in letters of thanks and appreciation received after they have given evidence.”

The inquiry has four staff working full-time on witness support, guiding each applicant through the process before, during and after interviews.

The statement added: “Applicants are made aware of the Historical Institutional Abuse Support Service arranged by OFMDFM (Stormont’s Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister) and the drop-in centres available in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry.

“As appropriate, they are also given details of helplines, specialist services and other relevant organisations throughout Northern Ireland. Witness support officers will keep in contact and make a follow-up phone call to all applicants after interview.”

It said inquiry counsel are acutely aware of the need to deal with all witnesses as sensitively as possible. Questions suggested by legal representatives for others are submitted to inquiry lawyers, and they decide which are relevant and how they can be asked, if necessary in consultation with the chairman.

The inquiry has heard a litany of allegations from former residents at Londonderry homes run by the nuns, including that children were made to eat their own vomit and bathe in disinfectant.

The treatment of young people, orphaned or taken away from their unmarried mothers, in houses run by nuns, brothers or the state is a key concern of Sir Anthony Hart’s inquiry which is being held in Banbridge, Co Down, and was ordered by ministers.

A panel chaired by the retired judge is considering cases between 1922, the foundation of Northern Ireland, and 1995.

Around 50 people will give evidence about the alleged mistreatment of child migrants from Northern Ireland, the latest stage of the inquiry and unrelated to Ms Walmsley’s case.

Around 130 young children were sent to Australia as child migrants, almost all after the Second World War. Most were transferred by Catholic religious orders, like the Sisters of Mercy and the Christian Brothers, who ran care homes.

 

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