Child at care home force-fed til mouth would bleed, inquiry told

A child was force-fed to the point where his mouth would bleed during a time in care that was “hell itself”, an inquiry has heard.

A witness also told how he thought he was going to die during beatings at Quarrier’s Village in Renfrewshire in the 1960s and 1970s.

He told the probe he was “petrified” of the house mother in charge of his living quarters, describing her as “an animal” with an “appetite for evil”.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) in Edinburgh is currently examining the care given to children at establishments run by non-religious and voluntary organisations.

It has heard how Quarrier’s was a late-19th century development consisting of dozens of orphan homes known as cottages, which were run by one or two house parents.

The man, now in his mid-50s, gave evidence on Thursday about his experiences at the institution over a 10-year period.

He said “all hell broke loose” when he entered one of the cottages at the village, telling the probe: “That was hell itself.”

The witness, who cannot be identified, told how he would be force-fed by the house mother when he refused to eat certain foods, while a second, more reluctant, staff member restrained him “completely”.

“She pulled your head back and was forcing the food down, I’d be sick, I’d be puking it back up to the plate,” the man said.

He continued: “(Your) gums were bleeding, she was pushing it down into your mouth, the metal of the spoon, the fork, or whatever.

“To describe her, she was an animal.”

He said other children were also force-fed, saying of the woman: “She had an appetite for evil”.

The man also told the SCAI how he would be punched and slapped around the head by the house mother.

“I was thinking I’m going to die here,” he said, adding that experiencing violence “became a normality”.

A wooden shoe was her “favourite weapon” and would be used to hit him on the head, body and legs, he said.

The witness further described how the woman would drag him to a cold shed, making him stand – sometimes in his pyjamas – for hours on end, as a punishment.

“She said ‘If you move or I hear a noise, you’re going to be getting it’,” the man told the hearing.

He recounted how he was once asked about his bruises by a woman on the premises but was so “petrified” of the house mother he was “struck dumb with fear” and could not respond.

Another witness, who cannot be named, told the hearing the emotional abuse she suffered at Quarrier’s was almost harder to deal with the physical and sexual abuse she experienced.

The woman, who was there for around four years in the 1970s, described how she lived in a constant state of anxiety and fear around her house mother.

She said punishments issued by the woman included forcing her to hold her arms in the air and slapping her when she let them drop, belting her and forcing her head into a bin.

She was also made to do press-ups, hit with a hairbrush and compelled to eat food she disliked, the SCAI heard.

The house mother would use “derogatory” language towards her and encouraged the other children to “have a laugh” when she was made to read out a letter from her mother, the probe was told.

She also said she was sexually abused by two residents at the home.

The witness told the hearing: “The physical and even the sexual abuse you could just about deal with, but the emotional stuff, the constant belittling, the humiliation, was really hard to deal with.”

Witness Stephen Findleton, who waived his right to anonymity, told how he ran away from Quarrier’s twice after experiencing abuse and humiliation at the village during his time there in the 1960s and 1970s.

He spoke of being hit on his buttocks by the house mother, being made to eat food that turned his stomach and being humiliated in front of other children for wetting the bed as a young boy.

Quarrier’s has previously apologised to those who had suffered abuse while in its care.

The inquiry, before Lady Smith, continues on Friday.

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