Woman breaks 65-year si­lence on abuse by nuns

Rutherglen Reformer - - Front Page - Marc McLean

A grand­mother has bro­ken a decades-long si­lence on the shock­ing abuse she suf­fered at a Ruther­glen kids’ refuge.

Theresa Ral­ston says the phys­i­cal and emo­tional abuse she en­dured at Belle­vue House in the early 1950s dev­as­tated her life.

The 69-year-old – who was just three when she was placed in the Catholic Church-run home – told the Re­former: “Those nuns were ruth­less.”

A grand­mother has spo­ken out for the first time about the shock­ing child abuse she suf­fered at a Ruther­glen or­phan­age 65 years ago.

Theresa Ral­ston says the phys­i­cal and emo­tional abuse she en­dured at Belle­vue House in the early 1950s dev­as­tated her life.

Re­call­ing her loss of in­no­cence, the 69-year-old told the Re­former:“Those nuns were ruth­less.

“One in par­tic­u­lar ter­rorised me and I was so scared that I con­tin­ued wet­ting the bed for many years after I left Belle­vue.

“I couldn’t even sleep in the dark un­til I was 20.”

And she omi­nously added: “I’m sure some chil­dren didn’t come out of there alive.”

A pub­lic in­quiry re­cently con­firmed that many kids were sub­jected to hor­ri­fy­ing abuse over decades at Belle­vue House, a for­mer chil­dren’s home run by the Ro­man Catholic Church in Clin­car­thill.

Theresa lived there for around two years, be­tween the ages of three and five, and de­spite be­ing just a toddler, she in­sists that the trauma of what hap­pened in her for­ma­tive years has never left her. She still has flash­backs of:

Wet­ting the bed and be­ing made to sleep in the soaked bed­sheets al­most ev­ery night

Be­ing hu­mil­i­ated by a nun who took twisted plea­sure in an­nounc­ing to ev­ery other child that Theresa was a bed-wet­ter

Be­ing cru­elly whacked on the body with a cane

Be­ing forced to un­dress in front of boys and en­dure com­mu­nal baths

Theresa’s claims match those by oth­ers who have al­ready given state­ments to the Scot­tish Child Abuse In­quiry about Belle­vue House.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion has found that nuns, priests and staff at Belle­vue House and also Smyl­lum Park in La­nark phys­i­cally and sex­u­ally abused kids for many decades.

Last month, the in­quiry con­firmed that boys and girls housed in the two Catholic res­i­den­tial homes were sys­tem­at­i­cally starved of love, dig­nity and com­pas­sion.

Run by the Daugh­ters of Char­ity of St Vin­cent de Paul, nearly 6600 chil­dren spent time at Belle­vue House from its open­ing in 1912 un­til 1943.

How­ever, no records show how many were there un­til its even­tual clo­sure in 1961.

Theresa was in Belle­vue be­tween 1952 and 1954, but still doesn’t have a con­crete an­swer as to why she ended up there.

She had pre­vi­ously lived in West Muir Place in Ruther­glen with her dad James, mum Mary, her older brother, and grand­mother.

Theresa’s fa­ther went away with the Mer­chant Navy and she be­lieves that her mother was preg­nant and un­able to cope with caring for her and her older brother.

She ex­plained: “I don’t re­mem­ber go­ing into the con­vent but I re­mem­ber what hap­pened when I was there and the day I came out.

“I left Belle­vue at the age of five to go to Fairy Street School in Ruther­glen.

“I’m guess­ing that my dad had come home from the Mer­chant Navy, and I don’t think my dad knew I had gone into Belle­vue.

“I re­mem­ber leav­ing the con­vent and go­ing home with my mother, and there was a baby I didn’t know in a pram in the house.”

Theresa’s fam­ily were not aware of the abuse she suf­fered while in the care of the nuns, but she sus­pects her par­ents heard ru­mours about Belle­vue House.

“I was a re­ally nosey lit­tle girl and friendly, but that soon got knocked out of me at Belle­vue,” said Theresa.

“I was never a good sleeper and we were forced to go to sleep very early each day.

“I re­mem­ber one nun came over to my bed be­cause I had an ac­ci­dent. She said, ‘who has wet the bed?’

“I replied, ‘I have’, and she shouted out to the whole dor­mi­tory what I had done.

“She said, ‘you’ll just have to lie in it then’, and left.

“I wet the bed ev­ery night after that and was al­ways made to sleep in the wet sheets.

“Wet­ting the bed con­tin­ued for me even after I went home, right up un­til the age of 10.”

Theresa be­lieves that Belle­vue House was run en­tirely by nuns in the time she was there, as she can’t re­call any priests

in the build­ing.

Dozens of boys and girls slept in sep­a­rate dor­mi­to­ries, but were made to wash at the same time in a com­mu­nal baths area.

Theresa said: “Boys would line up on one side and the girls would line up on the other. We were put in the bath one after the other.

“At first I didn’t want to take my un­der­wear off be­cause there were boys in the room, so I got hit with a cane and was forced to re­move my clothes.

“I didn’t com­plain again be­cause I was too scared.

“As a child, you kept turn­ing round look­ing for your mum. To me, she (the cruel nun) was the mother fig­ure in there so it was very con­fus­ing.

“But when I got home, my mum was never like that to me. And my dad was great all through my child­hood, he al­ways looked after his lit­tle girl.”

Theresa’s dad once said to her, ‘there’s things I’ll ex­plain to you when you’re older’, but he trag­i­cally died of a heart at­tack when she was aged 14.

With plenty of ques­tions about her child­hood, Theresa still never got any an­swers as she grew up.

She said: “I re­mem­ber hav­ing a row with my mother at home and I said to her, ‘why was I in that con­vent?’

“She just stood and stared at me and never gave me an an­swer. But I know she wouldn’t have in­ten­tion­ally put me in a bad place.”

Theresa be­gan to bet­ter un­der­stand what had hap­pened in her child­hood when she was 18.

And her emo­tional wounds made it dif­fi­cult to ever en­joy close re­la­tion­ships with men. She mar­ried once, and had a daugh­ter, but the mar­riage broke down after just a year.

Now a pen­sioner and liv­ing in Cum­bria, Eng­land, Theresa only told her daugh­ter about her child­hood trauma last year.

She added: “There were hun­dreds of boys and girls in there. They must have been happy, lit­tle chil­dren think­ing they were go­ing on an ad­ven­ture – but it turned into a liv­ing night­mare. Then they be­came a shadow of the child they once were and should have been.

“The peo­ple who did this should be held to ac­count, even if they are nuns.”

The peo­ple who didthisshouldbe held to ac­count, even if they are nuns Theresa Ral­ston

Bit­ter mem­o­ries Belle­vue

In­ves­ti­ga­tion Smyl­lum Park in La­nark

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