No Criminal Activity Surrounding Mass Grave at Scottish Orphanage

by Anita Carey  •  •  September 13, 2017   

Scottish Crown Office: "There is no evidence to suggest a crime has been committed"

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LANARK, Scotland ( - The Scottish prosecutors and police have exonerated the Daughters of Charity of criminal activity surrounding an unmarked mass grave of children at this time.

The discovery of a mass grave on the grounds of Smyllum Park Orphanage in Scotland sparked a media frenzy of allegations of wrongdoing and child abuse.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Scottish Crown Office said, "Based on the information currently available, there is no evidence to suggest a crime has been committed or that any deaths require to be investigated." They have assured the public that they are keeping a watchful eye on the situation and "any allegations of criminality will be thoroughly and sensitively investigated."

The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul British Province ran Smyllum Park Orphanage from 1864 until its closure in 1981. Over 11,000 children were cared for there over its 117 years of operation.
Looking to find evidence of child abuse in 2003, Frank Docherty and Jim Kane, two former residents of Smyllum Park Orphanage, searched the grounds, finding a mass grave in an unmarked section of the graveyard that contained the remains of a number of children who had died at the orphanage.
Docherty and his two siblings were placed in Smyllum when he was nine years old after his alcoholic parents abandoned them. He spent less than two years at the orphanage. His obituary reports he was "so moved by the indifference to the tiny mounds" of the children in unmarked "paupers' graves" that he would spend years trying to identify them.
Historical photo of boys school in Smyllum Park

Scotland legislated registering deaths with the government in 1855, shortly before the orphanage was built in 1864. These historical records were used by the BBC and the Sunday Post to scrutinize Smyllum and cast doubt on the Daughters of Charity's years of service to the poor of Scotland. Their report found that 402 children had died at the orphanage.

The Daughters of Charity admitted they had only a portion of the records that showed 158 children were buried in unmarked graves. The BBC reported that most of the children died of natural causes such as tuberculosis, pleurisy and pneumonia and were under the age of five. The majority of these deaths occurred between 1870–1930.

Mark McDonald, the childcare minister, confirmed that during the time of the children's deaths that there were no legal requirements to keep a register of the plots.

Smyllum Park and 100 other locations are the focus of a larger Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. This inquiry is holding public hearings to investigate allegations of historical child abuse "within living memory." There have been several days of hearings, resulting in hundreds of pages of transcripts.

John Scott, spokesman for the In Care Abuse Survivors group, said the inquiry has come too late for some that have died. He then said, "It is not too late for at least some acknowledgment and accountability, not too late for some compensation, not too late for other survivors to come forward."

It is not too late for ... some compensation, not too late for other survivors to come forward.

On June 13, 2017, representatives from the Daughters of Charity gave sworn testimony before the inquiry about the Smyllum Orphanage. Sister Ellen Flynn, provincial of the Great Britain congregation, testified:

[W]e are extremely saddened that those accusations have been made. We are shocked at the thought that there may have been and are very apologetic. But in our records, we can find no evidence or anything that substantiates the allegations.

The inquiry also questioned Sr. Flynn, regarding the order's approach to physical chastisement. She replied, "Our ethos would absolutely forbid any kind of cruelty or mistreatment of children," explaining she did not know how to define the order's historical practices as there were no written procedures for chastisements or allegations of abuse during the times of operations.

Sister Flynn told the inquiry that the police were investigating a recent abuse allegation, and they "fully cooperated," making their archives available to the police who they report "took them away."

The inquiry will conduct further investigations, looking at Catholic institutions. "On November 28 the first case study of hearings will begin. It will consider the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul," says the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.

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