Smyllum Park orphanage/childrens home

Call to mark graves of care home children – Consistent abuse

SURVIVORS of child abuse are demanding that headstones are placed on the unmarked graves of children who died in a care home which was run by Catholic nuns.

The graves of up to 158 children who died while living at Smyllum Park in Lanark lie in mounds at St Mary’s churchyard in the town.

Members of campaign group Incas – In Care Abuse Survivors – said those who had ­suffered physical beatings and psychological abuse at the hands of the nuns wanted ­justice for the children and added that they could not get ­“closure” until they had performed this last task.

They are being supported by relatives of some of the children who died from disease and accidents at the home over 117 years, from 1864-1981.

Frank Docherty, who spent two years in the home in the early 1950s, said he and many former Smyllum residents felt angry that marble headstones had been placed on the graves of nuns and priests in the graveyard, while the children’s last resting place could not be identified.

The house and grounds of Smyllum Park Orphanage

A previous campaign led to the order of nuns who ran the home, the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent De Paul (now the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul) erecting a memorial “in memory of the deceased children of Smyllum who died between 1864-1981”. An annual service in honour of the children is attended by hundreds of people from throughout Scotland and from overseas.

However, Docherty, founder and honorary president of the charity, said the collective ­memorial was not enough.

“The children from Smyllum were dumped in that graveyard and forgotten about,” he said. “The kids are in paupers’ graves. They were given little dignity in death and no record was kept of where each individual child was buried.

Boys’ School, Smyllum Orphanage, Lanark 1910

“As the years go by we’ve had more people joining our group, sometimes from as far away as Australia.

“Sometimes it takes years for people to talk about what happened and want to visit the graves to pay their respects to brothers, sisters, sons or daughters. But there is nowhere for them. When I go to the graveyard I see rosaries and flowers left on the memorial and it’s heartbreaking.

“It is a total disgrace that we have people from all over Scotland who can’t go to the graves of their brothers and sisters.

Girls’ Dining Hall, Smyllum Orphanage, Lanark 1910 

“What I and other children endured at Smyllum Park was a living hell and it left us traumatised. This campaign is a way of getting the Catholic Church to face up to their responsibility for the terrible wrong they did to these children even in death.”

Eddie McColl, 68, and his brother William, 69, from Edinburgh, are desperate to have a headstone erected in the graveyard in memory of their younger brother Francis, who died in 1961, aged around five, following an accident at the home. He was buried in an ­unmarked grave at St Mary’s.

The three brothers, originally from Glasgow, were sent to Smyllum Park following a family breakdown. “I am very ­angry,” Eddie said. “There is nowhere we can go to visit Francis. There’s no closure. Francis died while we were in Smyllum in an accident. We have wee memories of him but I wish we had a set place for him. It would give us a name to visit.”

Girls’ Dormitories, Smyllum Orphanage, Lanark 1910

Smyllum Park closed in the 1980s and has been at the centre of abuse allegations ever since. Chris Daly, secretary of the campaign group, who as a child lived in ten homes, including two where he suffered abuse, said the issue of “identity” was vital for children who had been in care.

Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: “The idea of the erection of headstones for the children seems reasonable and a sensible proposal. We can ­offer support and sympathy but it is important those ­involved have some sort of dialogue with those who owned and managed the home to resolve this.”

Child abuse or strict regime ?

One survivor of the abuse was brought up in Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark, run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. He said, “The horrifying thing was that being hurt by implements was bad enough, but to see a holy person, a righteous person with – I don’t want to exaggerate – a face full of hate, an angelic, holy face turning into a face of horror, a woman crunching her teeth in hate, going berserk, screaming while you are pleading for mercy, the wee leather boots just booting into you. Bruises go away, but the horror stays in your mind.”

The Big Issue in Scotland told a particularly harrowing tale by resident John McCorry of the behaviour of the nuns from the Smyllum Park Orphanage near Lanark. “They warped our sexualities. We were told that the toilet – and even using the word toilet – was evil. We couldn’t refer to any part of our body between the neck and knees as anything other than ‘our front’. But as a result kids would get beaten for talking about their fronts. We would get beaten for asking to go to the toilet. It was institutionalised insanity… Boys who wet the bed were beaten all the time… They were forced to drink Epsom salts over and over again. But that ended up making them doubly incontinent.

Most of the boys who suffered this ended up soiling themselves a few hours later. The most disgraceful thing I ever saw was one boy who was forced to walk up and down all day in the dining hall with his wet sheet under his arm. The sister who made him do this was shouting at us, saying, ‘Why aren’t you laughing at him?’ There was the sound of forced laughter everywhere. The boy was crying. It was sadistic, sick, mental torture”. The Catholic Church’s spokesman, the ‘Sexfinder General’, Monsignor Tom Connelly, had his secretary explain to the Big Issue in Scotland: “It’s nothing to do with us any longer”.

The pursuer was born on 16 January 1963. Soon afterwards, her mother left the family for a time. She was left with her father, who placed her in Smyllum Orphanage, (to which I shall refer as “the Home”), in Smyllum Park, Lanark, run by the second defenders. She was resident there for about four and a half years, between June 1966 and December 1970

“The defenders knew the pursuer was a vulnerable child. Initially the pursuer was under the care of Sister A. Sister A was very kind to the pursuer. Sister A was replaced by Sister X and a lay helper called Y shortly after the pursuer arrived at the Home.Sister X and Y were in charge of the pursuer until she left the Home. They were very unkind to her. The pursuer was not aware of anyone being in charge of Sister X or Y. She does not know whether there was a Mother Superior. The Home had its own School, staffed by nuns. It had its own Chapel. 

There was no opportunity for the pursuer to have contact with persons outside the Home. She does not recall being visited by social workers. There was no-one to whom she could have complained.The pursuer was subjected to the standard regime in the said Home. Children including the pursuer in the said Home were regularly subjected to assaults and cruel punishments. The pursuer slept in a dormitory containing seven girls or thereby. In a cell adjacent to the dormitory slept one of the nuns, Sister X, and a lay helper by the name of Y. Children who wet their beds were punished severely: they were placed in cold baths with their soiled bed-sheets and thereafter made to lie on their beds with no bed-sheets. The pursuer witnessed such events on a nightly basis. 

She herself did not wet her bed. Nonetheless she was subjected to unwarranted punishment by Sister X and the lay helper, Y. Water was sprinkled on her bed by these individuals and she would be told that she had wet her bed. She was then subjected to the same punishment as genuine bed-wetters, as before condescended upon. Such happened to the pursuer around twice per week throughout her time at the Home. Towards the end of her time in the Home, in or around 1969, a stranger attempted to abduct the pursuer outside the Home by enticing her and her sister into his motor car. They refused to go with him. The pursuer, on telling Sister X of the incident, was told that ‘it was your sister’s fault’. The pursuer was thereafter beaten by Sister X and the lay helper, Y, each of whom pulled her hair and punched her on the back of her head. Towards the end of her time at the Home, in or around 1969, the pursuer was having her hair washed in one of the bathrooms. Uninvited by the pursuer, one of the boys entered the bathroom. Sister X accused the pursuer of immorality and pushed a bar of soap into her mouth. They were not provided with adequate food in that it was poorly cooked and unappetising. 

Children, including the pursuer, were made to eat all food which was placed before them. When children, including the pursuer, were unable to eat their food, they would be hit with a wooden spoon, a hairbrush or bare hands.Sister X and the lay helper, Y, beat the pursuer on a routine basis throughout her time at the Home for failing to eat food. Her brother and sister were made to watch her being forced to eat her food and being beaten if she was unable to do so. Any uneaten food was served up at the next mealtime. The pursuer was likewise made to watch her brother and sister when they were being beaten for failing to eat their food. She was made to watch this on a routine basis throughout her time at the Home.She was made on occasion to eat her own vomit. Hygiene and medical care were neglected. Baths were given no more than once per week. The pursuer was made to share the bathwater with the other girls in her dormitory, that is to say with another six girls or thereby. 

Accordingly, if the pursuer was last in the bath (as she frequently was) the water would be cold and dirty. She was given only one change of clothing per week. Such lack of attention to hygiene was unreasonable, even judged against the prevailing standard of the time. She was never seen by either a Doctor or a Dentist during the whole of her time at the Home. Children, including the pursuer, were assaulted and humiliated in front of other children and in front of other nuns and staff. They were slapped about the head and face, hit with implements including rulers and pulled by various parts of the body including the ears. The other nuns and staff did not intervene. Sister X and Y were able to assault and humiliate the pursuer and others with impunity. Such assaults took place on a daily basis. They often occurred at meal times. The pursuer seldom saw her siblings except on occasions when she was being beaten and they were summoned to watch and vice versa. Contact with families was discouraged. The pursuer’s grandfather was the only member of her family who routinely visited. 

He was not always allowed to see his grandchildren. No explanation would be given to the pursuer when her grandfather was not admitted. Gifts he brought to the Home for her on the occasions of his visits were confiscated and not returned. Christmas presents from family members were confiscated and not returned to the pursuer each Christmas during her time at the Home. The pursuer ran away from the Home on approximately four occasions. She was returned to the Home by the Police. The Police did not ask her why she had run away. The nuns were polite to the Police. Once the Police left, the nuns and staff punished the pursuer by stripping her and putting her in a cold shower and separating her from the other children. 

Said treatment was systematic and regular. … It occurred throughout the time the pursuer was a resident in the said Home. The punishments inflicted upon the pursuer were excessive, random and constituted assaults. They were frequently administered for no reason at all. They were cruel and unusual. The regime condescended upon was harsh and cruel. The treatment condescended upon was not the treatment reasonably to be expected of those acting in loco parentis.”

The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul declined to comment.

It is believed that many hundreds of people suffered abuse in care homes in Scotland over the past 70 years. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Human Rights Commission are in discussion about how to make reparation for historic child abuse – ranging from compensation to offering adequate counselling and genuine apologies. However, under current legislation these historic cases are time-barred as ­victims must take their case to court within three years of the alleged abuse.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien apologised for the Catholic Church’s decades-long cover-up of child abuse by paedophile priests in a sermon in 2010.

The cardinal, who is Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and Britain’s most senior Catholic, first apologised to victims of sex abuse in 2002. But the fury over the scandal grew with the Pope facing calls to resign for failing to act to tackle a pervert priest reported to him in the 1990s.