Scottish abuse hearings close after ‘powerful and disturbing’ testimony

The second phase of hearings into allegations of abuse at children’s homes run by a religious order has drawn to a close following weeks of “powerful, compelling and disturbing” testimony.

In excess of 70 people have provided evidence to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry since it began looking specifically at four now-defunct children’s homes run by the Sisters of Nazareth in Scotland in April.

The inquiry has been told of a catalogue of alleged abuses by nuns at those institutions decades ago, including physical abuse, force feeding and humiliation.

John Scott QC, representing the group In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), said it was now “absolutely clear” abuse took place in the homes in Aberdeen, Lasswade, Kilmarnock and Cardonald.

In his closing submission he said: “There has been no real challenge to the evidence of widespread abuse of children.

“Indeed there has been evidence in this case study, mostly uncontradicted, which has been powerful, compelling and disturbing.

“The serious nature of certain allegations seems to have made it hard or even impossible for some to accept that any of the abuse occurred, indeed before this inquiry some focussed on the most extreme or ‘fantastical’ allegations to suggest that all allegations must have been fabricated.

“Despite the denials of Sisters I suggest that it is absolutely clear that abuse happened in various Nazareth houses.”

Allegations of historical abuse were denied by some of those accused during evidence to the inquiry.

However Sister Anna Maria Doolan – the current regional superior of the Sisters of Nazareth order – apologised “unreservedly” stating she had “no reason to disbelieve” claims from witnesses.

Archbishop Mario Conti also spoke of his “pain and sorrow” for those who have suffered mistreatment during his appearance at the inquiry.

Asked about comments he was said to have made 20 years ago in which he described lawyers as dangling a “pot of gold” before alleged victims, he said he would no longer use that phrase.

Archbishop Conti, the former Bishop of Aberdeen and Archbishop of Glasgow, gave evidence primarily on his knowledge of Nazareth House in Aberdeen, after taking up the post in the city in 1977.

Reading his closing submission, his legal representative Alan Inglis said: “He accepts that a significant number of children were subject to abuse in children’s homes established to care for them within a religious context.”

He said Archbishop Conti accepted that when the allegations first emerged, “some of his public remarks may have been better worded”, and he expressed “his deep sorrow to and heartfelt sympathy and concern for those who have suffered”.

He acknowledges children have been “failed in the past”, Mr Inglis said, adding “it will not and cannot happen again”.

The inquiry, before Lady Smith, will resume in October with a third phase of hearings into residential care at Quarriers, Aberlour and Barnardo’s.

The first phase of the public hearings for the inquiry looked at residential child care establishments run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.

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