Children suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse at Scottish Catholic-run homes

The former Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark
The former Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark

Two homes run by a Catholic religious order were places of fear where many children suffered emotional, physical and sexual abuse, an inquiry has found.

The first interim report by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) concluded there was “coercive control, threat and excessive discipline” in Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark and Bellevue House in Rutherglen over more than two decades from the 1950s.

Both institutions were operated by nuns from the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.

From November last year, the inquiry heard evidence over 20 days from 54 witnesses about their experiences at Smyllum and Bellevue from 1957 until 1981, and 21 written statements were also submitted.

Allegations of historical abuse made by former residents included claims of beatings for wetting the bed, humiliations, cold showers and children being force-fed inedible food.

In a statement issued as she published her report, inquiry chair Lady Smith said: “For many children who were in Smyllum and Bellevue, the homes were places of fear, coercive control, threat, excessive discipline and emotional, physical and sexual abuse, where they found no love, no compassion, no dignity and no comfort.”

In her findings, Lady Smith noted that for some children, being hit was “a normal aspect of daily life”.

She concluded: “Children were physically abused. They were hit with and without implements, either in an excess of punishment or for reasons which the child could not fathom.

“The implements used included leather straps, the ‘Lochgelly Tawse’, hairbrushes, sticks, footwear, rosary beads, wooden crucifixes and a dog’s lead.”

Lady Smith found: “Children were abused emotionally in different ways. They were frequently humiliated, controlled and insulted, made to feel worthless, denigrated and subjected to punishments which were unjustified.”

The inquiry further reported that children were sexually abused in Smyllum and at St Vincent’s in Newcastle, a home run by the order on behalf of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, to which a Smyllum family was transferred.

“Children were sexually abused by priests, a trainee priest, Sisters, members of staff and a volunteer,” Lady Smith said.

A statement from the Daughters of Charity said: “Lady Smith’s findings describe events and practices which are totally out of keeping with the fundamental values which underpin our life and mission and we are committed to giving this report our utmost attention.

“We most sincerely offer our heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered any form of abuse whilst in our care.

“Our respectful desire for the future is to build appropriate relationships with INCAS (in care abuse survivors) and others, to effect healing in whatever ways are possible for this generation.”