Victim tells inquiry sexual abuse was ‘whitewashed’ by children’s home staff

A man has told an inquiry how the sexual abuse he suffered as a child was “whitewashed” during his time at a children’s home.

A witness told the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) he was abused by older boys, priests and care assistants over two years when he stayed at Nazareth House in Lasswade, Midlothian, in the 1960s.

When he tried to report the abuse to the nuns at the home, or another priest, he was beaten or told to “stop telling lies”, the hearing was told.

He described the home near Edinburgh as “not a very nice place” and added: “If the devil had come and said ‘I’m taking you away from this place’, I would have gone with him just to get out of there.”

The SCAI, sitting in Edinburgh, is currently looking at children’s homes, no longer operating, which were run by the Catholic congregation the Sisters of Nazareth in Scotland.

Giving evidence on Tuesday, the man, who cannot be identified, told how the sexual abuse started during his time at the institution when he was seven years of age and went on for a couple of years.

He told how he was forced by older teenage boys “to do things that I wouldn’t want to do”.

The witness also described being abused by “different priests at different times”, including during confession, as well as by helpers at the home.

“Maybe they heard you were being sexually abused and maybe they thought they could have a go,” the man said of the assistants.

He said he never witnessed other children being abused but said that did not mean it did not happen.

The man told how the abuse from the older boys made him feel “ashamed” and “guilty”, and he described how he was rejected when he tried to make the nuns aware of what was going on.

He told the inquiry: “When I did mention to nuns about things, they said ‘that doesn’t happen in here’ and you’d get a beating for it and punished.”

They wanted to “whitewash the walls” and hide the issue away, he said.

The man also told how a priest, who had not abused him, failed to take him seriously when he tried to speak about the abuse.

“He just didn’t want to know about anything like that happening. He just tried to whitewash it, sweep it under the table.”

The man described how he would be “beaten, told to stop telling lies, being wicked” by the nuns and said the beatings made him stop wanting to raise the issue with adults.

“I think it was just a case of having to accept it,” he said. “There was nothing in my power that I could do to stop it.”

The witness told the hearing: “Everything just seems to have been whitewashed and hidden, and not allowed to come out into the open.”

He told chair Lady Smith he never spoke about the abuse until he discussed it with inquiry staff.

“Those years of my life were not the best,” he said. “Childhood is supposed to be a happy time but I didn’t know happiness in my time at that place.”

The probe later heard claims that a nun at the same institution had inflicted a “bad” head injury on a child.

Another witness said he was sitting near a boy at school when he noticed pus coming from a “hole” on the side of the child’s head.

When the teacher became aware, an ambulance was called, the boy was taken away and he did not return to school for a couple of months, the inquiry heard.

The witness, who cannot be named, said: “One of the other boys said that one of the nuns bashed his head on one of these coat hangers in the changing room at Nazareth House.”

The inquiry continues on Wednesday.

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