Smyllum Park orphanage
Image caption Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark after it closed in the 1980s

A six-year-old boy died 10 days after being beaten by a Catholic nun at an orphanage, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has heard.

Former residents of Smyllum Park in Lanark have told of the physical and sexual abuse they suffered.

One witness said his friend was kicked on the head by a nun and later died.

In an opening statement, lawyers for the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul apologised to anyone who was abused in their care.

Playing with matches

The second phase of the inquiry, which is taking place in Edinburgh, has opened with a case study of homes run by the Catholic order.

Former residents recalled being beaten for wetting the bed, not eating food and getting dirty.

One said he was also sexually abused by a nun and a female member of staff.

The witness entered the orphanage in 1959 when he was aged about two, along with three brothers and a sister.

He said beatings were routine, and that on one occasion when he was aged around six his friend was beaten after playing with a match and accidentally burning his hand.

Image copyright Nick Mailer
Image caption The inquiry is chaired by High Court judge Lady Smith

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 that some days later he saw his friend being taken away in an ambulance and was later shown his grave.

The inquiry heard the boy was in hospital for about 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 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.

In August 1965 when he was aged about seven the witness said he was moved to St Vincent in Newcastle, which was run by the same order of sisters. He told how he encountered abuse there too.

Colin MacAulay QC, counsel to the inquiry, said: “In your statement you go on to say it was another place run by psychopaths.”

The witness said: “We had to go to the washrooms and I must have said something out of line, she pinned me up against the wall with her forearm with a bread knife to my throat threatening to kill me and I genuinely thought I was going to die then, I was screaming.”

‘Sincere and heartfelt apologies’

More than 60 residential institutions, including several top private schools, are being investigated by the inquiry, chaired by Lady Smith.

In opening statements to the second phase on Tuesday morning John Scott QC, senior counsel for In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), said the name Smyllum will be “forever associated with suffering”.

He said: “Just how could abuse of such extent and duration occur without knowledge, especially given how closely knit a community the place was?

“Either people knew because they were involved or they knew and did nothing to stop it or nobody took time to find out what life was like in this showpiece home.”

Solicitor Gregor Rolfe, counsel for the Daughters of Charity, reiterated the apology made by the order at the conclusion of the first phase of the inquiry.

Their statement said: “As Daughters of Charity our values are totally against any form of abuse and thus we offer our most sincere and heartfelt apologies to anyone who suffered any form of abuse in our care.”

Mr Rolfe also said that since the end of the first phase of the inquiry a former lay member of staff has come forward with an allegation that a man volunteering at Smyllum abused two brothers in the 1970s.

The allegation has now been reported to police but did not appear to be investigated at the time, with no record of any investigation.

Mr Rolfe said: “There was a failure on the part of the order for which they apologise unreservedly.

“There was also no contemporaneous report of the allegation to the police. The order offers since and heartfelt apologies.”

The inquiry is chaired by Lady Smith and is due to report no sooner than October 2019.

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