Police Scotland are reviewing old cases involving a notorious orphanage, raising the possibility of prosecutions nearly 30 years after it closed, STV News has learned.
Allegations that children were physically and sexually abused at Smyllum Park, Lanark, first emerged in the 1990s, but it’s thought no-one has ever been convicted of committing an offence against any of the thousands of children who lived within its walls.
Former residents from the orphanage played a central role in persuading the Scottish Government to set up the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.
In November, at public hearings, the inquiry will investigate child care establishments run by organisations within the Roman Catholic Church, with Smyllum first on the list.
Representatives of the order which ran the home have already appeared at the inquiry.
In June the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent De Paul conceded that it was “a possibility” that abuse had taken place but they wouldn’t accept that it had actually happened, citing a lack of contemporary evidence in their archives.
The leader of the Daughters of Charity in Britain, Sister Ellen Flynn, said: “We are extremely saddened that those accusations have been made. We are shocked at the thought… and are very apologetic.
“But in our records we can find no evidence or anything that substantiates the allegations. We can’t confirm that there was abuse of any kind because we have no way of knowing that.”
As she left the inquiry, STV News asked Sister Flynn if she thought the allegations were untrue. She wouldn’t answer.
Detectives have already investigated allegations over the death of a child at Smyllum.
In 2015, a former resident told police that he witnessed six-year-old Sammy Carr being assaulted by a nun at the orphanage in 1964. The young boy died a short time later.
Sammy’s death certificate recorded the cause as a brain haemorrhage, but medical records from his post-mortem were reviewed by two pathologists from the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
They concluded that Sammy died from cerebral abscesses caused by a fungal infection.
The doctors said neglect could have been a factor, but there was no evidence of “significant trauma, within the limits of the information now available”.
The police said there was no evidence of criminality. The nun named by the former resident had died in 2014.
Many of the allegations involving Smyllum have been made against people who are no longer alive.
This week, another former resident claimed he had been sexually abused by a male trustee at Smyllum in the 1950s.
Billy Lang said he informed police about the abuse in the 1980s. They investigated and told him the man involved was dead.
Now Smyllum is being looked at again.
The head of public protection at Police Scotland Detective Chief Superintendent Lesley Boal told STV News: “Police Scotland has been asked by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to review a number of legacy force investigations into reports of abuse at care institutions in Scotland.
“We cannot comment further as these are now live and ongoing investigations.”
One of the institutions is the old orphanage. STV News understands that the police are investigating a woman’s allegations that she was sexually abused by a priest at Smyllum.
Media reports on Smyllum often result in people coming forward to say that they too suffered at the hands of nuns and members of staff.
Other former residents have said they enjoyed and benefited from their time at the orphanage but they’ve proved reluctant to speak out in public.
Scotland’s national force is now carrying out numerous investigations into allegations of historic abuse, in children’s homes, within the world of Scottish football and in the general community. They won’t say how many inquiries are under way, or how many victims or alleged perpetrators are involved.
Detective Chief Superintendent Boal had this message for the public: “If you or anyone you know has been a victim of abuse or wishes to report abuse you should feel confident in reporting to Police Scotland.
“We will listen and we will take action regardless of when or where the abuse occurred.”
The police stress that they are not looking into burial of hundreds of children from Smyllum in unmarked graves at St Mary’s Cemetery in Lanark.
Based on information provided by the Daughters of Charity, campaigners had long believed that at least 150 children were there, but an investigation by the Sunday Post and BBC Radio Four has suggested that the real figure could be as high as 400.
Most of the children died of natural causes between Victorian times and the 1930s.
The police and Crown Office have said there’s no evidence of a crime being committed over the burial of the children.
The last child from Smyllum to be laid to rest in a pauper’s grave was Sammy Carr, in 1964.