Children were abused at residential homes run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul (DoC), where many found “no love, no compassion, no dignity and no comfort”, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has ruled, in its first report.

They were hit with and without implements, including the Lochgelly Tawse, hairbrushes, sticks, shoes, rosary beats, crucifixes and a dog's lead, the report says, adding that the beatings were "either in an excess of punishment, or for reasons which the child could not fathom."

Children who showed signs of distress were punished. Runaways were beaten on their return, while bed-wetters were abused physically and emotionally, put in cold baths, forced to "wear" their wet sheets and humiliated by nuns and other children who were encouraged by Sisters to do so. 

Many children were force-fed, the inquiry concluded, adding: "Methods included grabbing children by the backs of their heads and holding their noses so as to force them to open their mouths. Food continued to be forced into their mouths even when they were vomiting it back." 

The Catholic order ran Bellevue House in Rutherglen and the notorious Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark, where hundreds of children are believed to have died and been buried in unmarked graves.

It was the subject of the first "case study" by the Scotland's independent inquiry into historical child abuse, which has so far cost more than £16 million. 

Lady Smith, the Inquiry's chair, said it had considered the evidence it has heard about the nature and extent of any abuse at the institutions run by the DoC in Scotland and concluded that children did suffer abuse. For some it was a "normal aspect of daily life".

She said: “For many children who were in Smyllum and Bellevue, the homes were places of fear, coercive control, threat, excessive discipline and emotional, physical and sexual abuse, where they found no love, no compassion, no dignity and no comfort.”

In specific instances where children were alleged to have been killed, the Inquiry has not found that the deaths were deliberate. Lady Smith heard evidence about Samuel Carr, a child in Smyllum, who some residents claimed had been beaten to death. However the Inquiry concludes he died, aged six, of a severe E. coli infection – although it notes he had been malnourished and had received a severe beating from a nun shortly before his death.

The death of Francis McColl,  at Smyllum after being hit by a golf club was accidental, the report says: "He had a significant hearing deficit, as was known to the Sisters, and, if any warning to stand back was given, it is likely that he did not hear it." The activity in which children were involved was poorly supervised, it adds.

Read more: Smyllum Park Nuns arrested over alleged abuse at closed orphanage

The report states that even taking in account the standards of the time, punishments meted out to children went beyond what was acceptable. 
Children were abused for being left handed, for being protestants and a Jewish child was told the  "Jewishness" would be "knocked out of him whilst he was being beaten".

Residents were sexually abused in Smyllum and at St Vincent’s, a home run by the DoC in Newcastle. The abuse was carried out by priests, a trainee priest, Sisters, members of staff and a volunteer. 

Children had to do excessive chores, including heavy work unsuitable for their age and were used as unpaid labour - sometimes to make up for staff shortages.

Bathing practices were abusive; with children given no privacy, forced to queue 'in a state of undress' and to share water that was too hot, cold or dirty.

Read more:  Scottish Government urged to compensate victims of historic child abuse in state care

They were emotionally abused, including through the routine separation of siblings, and being falsely told they "did not have family any more," while birthdays were not always marked. Some children
didn’t know when their birthday was.

The Inquiry heard evidence from 54 witnesses about their experiences of Smyllum Park in Lanark and Bellevue House in Rutherglen during evidence sessions between November 2017 and January 2018. A further 21 written statements of evidence were read in during the public hearings.

While some of those who carried out abuse are named, such as  Charlie Forsyth, a former Smyllum resident who went on to work in the home, who was responsible for  violent, angry beatings and physical and emotional abuse of children, most are not. Those who are deceased, including Forsyth, or who have been convicted in court of abuse will be named by the inquiry, but  others found to have been responsible for abuse, would remain anonymous at present, Lady Smith said. A spokeswoman for the inquiry said this was pending the outcome of possible court cases. 

Read more: Child abuse inquiry announces 17 more institutions to be investigated

Lady Smith said findings from the case study would be taken into account when she analyses all the evidence gathered by the Inquiry  and decides what recommendations to make within the final report.

In January, Sister Ellen Flynn, head of the DoC in the UK offered her  "deepest and most sincere apologies" to anyone who may have been abused at Smyllum Park. Giving evidence to the inquiry, she claimed the "horrifying" evidence of abuse at the Lanark care home was "totally against" everything the order stood for.