Claims of abuse at orphanage are “lies”, former residents tell inquiry

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Allegations of historic child abuse at an orphanage have been described as “absolute rubbish” by two former residents.

One witness to the Scottish Child Abuse inquiry said he had been “extremely well treated” at Smyllum Park in Lanark.

The man, now in his late 60s, said the nuns who ran the home were being unfairly portrayed as “monsters and out-and-out child beaters”.

A second witness, also in his 60s, said previous evidence given to the inquiry was a “gross distortion of the truth”.

Other witnesses have recounted a catalogue of abuse at Smyllum Park, which was run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul and closed in the 1980s.

This included beatings, humiliations, cold showers and children being force-fed inedible food.

Friday’s first witness, who cannot be named, arrived at Smyllum in 1957 aged about seven.

He described his time there as “positive”, and dismissed accounts of physical abuse as “absolute rubbish”.

While corporal punishment was used, he said this amounted to a “tug of the ear”, or the use of the belt.

“If it came to someone really misbehaving, and I mean really misbehaving, by language or fighting, then she (one of the nuns) would have had to deal out one or two of the strap,” he said.

Asked about violence inflicted by the nuns, he added: “I didn’t see anything like that. There are lots of lies being told.

“During my time, my window in Smyllum, I never saw any of what is being said about the nuns.”

“The kicking and the slapping never happened,” he said.

The witness described how he had been “shocked and horrified” to read statements from others who were children in the home.

“A lot of people I would say jumped on a bandwagon,” he said.

“I think it is compensation. I really do think that is what it is about.

“There might be one or two real stories in it, but the majority in my view are untrue. Out-and-out lies.”

The second witness, who also arrived at Smyllum in 1957, said corporal punishment was “used only sparingly and when children misbehaved”, adding that the nuns “dedicated themselves to the well-being of all the children in their care and chastised them fairly”.

He told the inquiry: “Truth has been crucified along with the Daughters of Charity and staff who worked at Smyllum Park.”

He added: “Most of what has been said is not true.”

The second witness, who cannot be named, continued: “Corporal punishment was used but abuse, definitely not.

“It was the strap, just like you would have got at a normal school.

“One or two of the strap, always on the hand. You might have got six of the strap if you were really, really bad, but that rarely happened.”

He said he did not recognise accounts of frequent violence, such as the allegation that nuns hit children with hairbrushes for the “slightest anything”.

“Absolute rubbish,” he said.

The witness broke down in tears as he concluded his evidence by thanking nuns and staff at the home, describing the “joy and happiness” his time there had brought him.

Colin MacAulay QC, counsel to the inquiry, who earlier stated that more than 50 people had come forward with accounts of abuse, asked him why he thought his perception of Smyllum was so different to others.

“They are looking for someone to blame for their lives,” he said.

“They think they are going to get money out of this.”

Written statements from a former nurse who treated children from Smyllum Park and a former care assistant at the home were also read out during Friday’s hearing.

The former nurse, who worked at Roadmeetings Hospital in Carluke, South Lanarkshire, said: “They were very subdued children.

“They didn’t respond to you. I can’t remember them laughing at all. I thought it was a sad life.”

The former care assistant described one incident where a child was hit repeatedly on the knuckles with a fork for refusing to eat.

“What I witnessed was not within the norms of corporal punishment, even then,” she said.

The inquiry, chaired by Lady Smith, continues.