Priest molested me at 8 but nun blamed me and broke my arm
A WOMAN has claimed she was molested by a priest and then beaten by the nun she thought had come to rescue her while living at an orphanage at the centre of a mass grave scandal.
Theresa Tolmie-McGrane said she was just eight years old when the priest tried to sexually abuse her at Smyllum Park in Lanark.
Now a 55-year-old academic, she spent 11 years at the home throughout the 1970s and said children were regularly beaten, forced to eat their own vomit and told to sleep in soiled sheets.
Mrs Tolmie-McGrane is due to speak about her experience to the Child Abuse Inquiry in Edinburgh next month.
Her comments follow a BBC and Sunday Post investigation which found 402 children from the institution, run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, may have been buried in an unmarked grave at the town’s St Mary’s Cemetery.
Speaking from her home in the Norwegian city of Fredrikstad, Mrs Tolmie-McGrane said: ‘The first sexual abuse was with a priest when I was eight.
‘I had a little part-time job cleaning the pews in the church and this particular priest would arrive early and he would ask me to go into a particular room with him and he would ask me to sit on his lap and fondle him. He tried to fondle me and I just pulled away.’
Mrs Tolmie-McGrane said the assault was then interrupted by a nun who walked in on the vile act but, instead of rescuing her, assaulted her with such violence that she suffered a broken arm.
She added: ‘I thought: “Yes, finally someone is realising what’s going on here”.
‘But instead of being angry at him, she got really angry at me. She yanked me by the left arm so hard and flung me across the room and called me a whore and told me to get out of there. I didn’t know my arm was broken at the time. It was only the day after that we realised.
‘Every child was beaten, punished, locked in a dark room, made to eat their own vomit and I would say that most of us had our mouths rinsed out with carbolic soap.’
Mrs Tolmie-McGrane arrived at the Lanarkshire orphanage in 1968 along with her older sisters when she was six years old. She said: ‘I remember liking it initially. I thought, “Wow, loads of places to play”. But as soon as I walked into the playroom, I vomited.
‘A couple of children came to clean it up but, as soon as the social worker left, that was my first beating.
‘One of the nuns came in and literally pulled me by the ear, which was really painful, and kind of flung my across the room and really tore into me and said, “You clean that up young lady or I’ll make you eat it”.’
As the years went by, the beatings became more severe, said Mrs Tolmie-McGrane. She added: ‘When you wet the bed you were stripped in the morning and you had to take your sheets along a corridor to a cold shower. If they were really nasty, sometimes they would make you sleep in the sheets for several days.’
She said that by the time she left the orphanage at the age of 17, she was an emotional wreck. Despite being the first child to leave the home with Higher qualifications, she struggled to cope during her first year of a degree in modern languages at Glasgow University. She had to delay her graduation and attend therapy, before meeting her husband and moving to Norway.
She said: ‘Everyone who went to Smyllum had either been abandoned, abused, neglected or had lost their family, so the impact of what I went through, on top of that, had a major effect on my life. I had a lot of problems after I left.’
Now a doctor in psychology, working with victims of abuse and rape, she reflects: ‘Your past is part of you, you’ll never get away from it, but it doesn’t have to define you. All of the stuff I went through I now use on a daily basis to help other people.’
It was only when Mrs TolmieMcGrane was approached to appear in a BBC documentary that she became aware of the ongoing child abuse inquiry.
A Daughters of Charity spokesman who gave evidence to the inquiry in June told the BBC: ‘We are shocked and saddened by these accounts describing acts that are alleged to have happened at Smyllum Park nearly 50 years ago. We would like to offer a sincere and heartfelt apology to anyone who suffered any form of abuse while at our facilities.’
File on 4: The Secrets of Smyllum Park, BBC Radio 4, September 24, 5pm.
‘She flung me across the room’
Young victim: Theresa, aged 6
Today: Mrs Tolmie-McGrane