Woman tells inquiry of years of neglect at Edinburgh foster home after reporting sexual abuse

A woman who was repeatedly sexually abused has told an inquiry she was beaten with a broom handle after telling the very people who were meant to protect her.

Shirley Caffell, who has waived her right to anonymity, told the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry of the years of neglect she suffered when she was put into a Portobello foster home between June 1965 and March 1968.

Ms Caffell found her way into the care system after she was abandoned in The Meadows, Edinburgh. She had gone to her grandparents house in Leith only to have the door slammed in her face.

She was put into the care system shortly after and was taken to the Portobello home where, on the first night, she wet the bed, the inquiry’s senior counsel Ruth Innes QC was told.

She said her carer “just turned on a sixpence” and the hearing was told that “the name-calling was horrible”. The sheets were never changed, she added.

Ms Caffell told the inquiry she was being sexually abused by a man who knew the family yet despite being in care she could not avoid him.

She told those at the Portobello foster home but they expressed their “total disbelief” and told her she was “lying”.

She said she had come back from visiting one day “and was in such pain down below” and described it as “an itchy pain”. Because of the pain, she was rubbing her groin but was accused of “doing something sexual”.

“I had never heard the word sex and (the carer) insisted I tell her how I did know how to do that, how did I know about sex,” she said.

Ms Caffell told them she would have learnt about it from the man, which led to her being punished.

She was taken to a shed by another carer in the home, told to lower her underwear and lean over, where she was attacked with a broom handle, which she told the inquiry left her “terrified”.

“The boys actually never got told to drop their trousers. They would get punched or kicked or punched in the face, but us girls it was always drop your knickers and bend over,” she told the inquiry.

She was sleeping in an outhouse after a spell in hospital and the inquiry heard on August 10 1967 there was an inspection.

She was rushed into the house and put in another bed, but inspectors said they found it hard to believe nobody was sleeping in it.

It would not be until March 1968 foster children would be removed, months after a horrific punishment beating of someone else who was in the home.

Ms Caffell told the inquiry the girl was stripped naked and “a belt was used on her whole body. Front, back, everywhere”.

“She was in a horrific state,” the inquiry was told. “She had welts that probably rose above her skin an inch.”

She told the inquiry an apology from the City of Edinburgh Council, whose previous incarnation Edinburgh Corporation ran the system, would help but that she did not think that would be coming.

“They let children down,” she said.

After the hearing, Jackie Irvine, chief social work officer for City of Edinburgh Council, said: “In addition to the apology offered at the beginning of the most recent evidence, I would like to add that I am deeply sorry and offer my heartfelt sympathy to survivors who should never have had to suffer whilst in our care. I apologise unreservedly for any failures and shortcomings which allowed such abuse to take place.

“Children in our care should have a place of safety where they are provided with security, stability, guidance and the support missing from their lives, but sadly this was not always the case. The abuse of children, in whatever form, is an abhorrent, unforgivable crime which has a devastating effect on the lives of victims and their families.

“The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has our full and ongoing support and would encourage anybody aware of or affected by abuse, current or historical, to come forward and speak confidentially to us or the police. We can assure anyone who suffered in the past or is suffering now, that they will be listened to, taken seriously and appropriate action will be taken.”

The inquiry continues.

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