An elderly nun has denied children were beaten, force-fed and humiliated at a controversial care institution. The 92-year-old woman told Scotland’s Child Abuse Inquiry she had not witnessed any cruelty or struck any youngsters herself during her time at Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark.
She told the inquiry she was based there from 1957 to 1964 and insisted it was a “happy place”, not one where physical and emotional abuse took place. The witness said it came as a “shock” to her to hear allegations emerge about the home and said she “wouldn’t dream” of abusing children in her care.
“If I did, I would have it on my conscience to the end of my days,” she told the hearing.
The public inquiry sitting in Edinburgh is continuing to hear evidence about life at Smyllum Park, which closed in the 1980s.
Former residents of the home have previously testified about receiving beatings and ill-treatment at the home, run by the nuns of the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. The retired sister, who cannot be identified, gave evidence from behind a screen on Tuesday as the inquiry moved into hearing from those who worked at the institution.
Colin MacAulay QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked the witness about evidence that children who wet the bed would be humiliated and punished. “No, that didn’t happen and I didn’t see it in any group either,” she said. “I never saw anybody doing that to a child.”
She described the food as “adequate”, if not varied, and said the children were never hungry.
Asked about claims the residents would be force-fed food, she replied: “No, that never happened. I never heard about that at all.”
She also denied the children would have to queue up to have a bath in the same water, saying a “marvellous” showering system was used during her time there.
Asked about claims from former residents that Smyllum was an unhappy place where children lived in fear, the sister told the hearing: “No, I never experienced that and I can’t understand why they said that because it was a happy place.
“They really had everything, they had lots of games and people coming to see them and all that kind of thing. This was a very happy place.” The nun also told the inquiry she did not see any child being hit or slapped by way of a punishment at the home.
“Did you witness any cruelty during your time at Smyllum?” asked Mr MacAulay.
“No, no,” the sister replied. Allegations made by previous witnesses about the nun herself were also put to her, including a claim she would carry out “beatings when she just lost the rag”.
She replied: “No none of that, I did none of that. Nothing like that happened.” She denied there was a regime of fear at the institution and agreed she would have considered actions, like force-feeding as abuse, had it happened. She went on to tell the hearing why she believes allegations of mistreatment have emerged.
“I think the reason is that they (the residents) were all very hurt by things that happened to them in their childhood and being taken from their parents and as they got older they had to blame somebody for this,” she said.
Another nun who worked at Smyllum for three years in the late 1950s and early 1960s told the inquiry she thought it was a “lovely” place to be. The witness, who is now 79 and has no allegations against her, also said there was “no need” for her to use punishment at the institution.
She said the young children in her care were “so willing to be your friend”. “If they did have differences I would just be saying ’be kind to each other or be helpful, look after each other’. “I didn’t really see any need (for punishment), I think I was more like a big sister.”
Mr MacAulay asked: “Did you ever see a child, boy or girl, being hit at Smyllum?”
“No,” the witness replied. The woman, who cannot be named, said she did not use corporal punishment because she did not need it and added she had never seen another sister disciplining the children.
Asked about the environment at Smyllum, she said: “I thought it was lovely. I was young and interested in everybody and everything. “It was happy, sunny, easy and enjoyable and rewarding and we were a very happy community as well.”
The inquiry, chaired by Lady Smith, continues.