Child abuse survivor tells inquiry of beatings at home run by religious order

An abuse survivor has told how he was hit with a golf club and beaten with a leather belt while resident at a children’s home run by a religious order.

The man, referred to as John, was hit so hard with the club that its head flew off but the religious brother continued to hit him with the stick.

John also told the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry he was beaten and locked overnight in a dark room dubbed the “dungeon” in the basement as punishment during his time at St Ninian’s in Falkirk, Fife.

The witness, now aged 78, said he thought the institution looked like a “haunted castle” when he arrived in August 1953, at the age of 12, having been moved from Smyllum Park Orphanage where he left his brother and sister.

He told the inquiry he stopped going to classes after a teacher ridiculed and belittled him because he could not read or write.

Speaking on the first day of phase four of the inquiry, John said that on one occasion he was beaten after other boys told a brother nicknamed Brother Mack that he had freed a pheasant from a trap.

He said: “I was told to go up and wait outside his office and Brother Mack came out and drew a golf club and it hit me on the arm and the head flew off it. He had broken it so he went on with the rest of the golf club that was left.”

Asked whether he was injured, he replied: “I was in agony.”

He was also abused by one of the teachers at the home, saying he was beaten “quite a lot” until he stopped going to classes.

He said: “He was not a brother, he was one of the outside teachers, and he loved to ridicule you in front of the class, that made his day.

“He had a belt, a solid lump of leather, and he would hit you anywhere.”

The fourth phase of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI), which opened on Tuesday, is focusing particularly on St Ninian’s, a residential school run by the Christian Brothers in Falkland, Fife.

John said he ran away twice from the home to try to visit his brother and sister as no-one at St Ninian’s could tell him how they were, but he was caught and brought back.

He also said he suspects other boys at the home were sexually abused following an incident when he was on his own in the showers not long before he left the institution in 1955, aged 15.

John said: “The light had gone off and I went to put it on and as I was half way up the shower I got grabbed from the back with a hand round my mouth and nose, and I started to panic.

“I woke up on the floor and I think whoever it was thought they had killed me.”

Ceit-Anna MacLeod, counsel to the inquiry, asked him what “clicked”.

He said: “I was grabbed from behind in the shower. Why? It could only be for one thing. I think it was sexual.

“Why did other boys stop playing, that used to be bubbly and full of life?”

John said that after the shower incident he made sure he was never on his own.

After leaving the home, John managed to get his brother and sister out of Smyllum by the time he was 17, having got a job.

Earlier in the morning, the inquiry, in Edinburgh, heard that two men convicted of abusing children at the school will give evidence by video link from prison.

John Farrell, then 73, and Paul Kelly, then 64, were sentenced to five and 10 years respectively in August 2016 for assaulting vulnerable pupils at St Ninian’s in the late 1970s and 80s.

Farrell, from Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, was jailed for three counts of indecent assault, and Kelly, from Plymouth, Devon, was sentenced to 10 years for four counts of indecent assault and two assault charges.

The men were members of Catholic religious order the Congregation of Christian Brothers, which ran the school.

St Ninian’s opened in January 1951 and closed in July 1983.

The inquiry continues.

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