Priests and nuns physically and sexually abused children at two Catholic orphanages for decades in Scotland a child abuse inquiry has revealed.

Nuns, priests and staff subjected the children to regimes of fear and physical and sexual abuse including beatings with crucifixes and dog leads the report published on Thursday found.

In its first interim report, the Scottish child abuse inquiry (SCAI) found that boys and girls housed at the residential homes in Lanarkshire were systematically starved of love, dignity and compassion.

Police in Scotland have already arrested and charged nuns and former staff during the investigation

The Guardian reports: Lady Smith, the commission’s chair, said many children at Smyllum Park in Lanark and Bellevue House in Rutherglen, run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul (DoC), were abused by the adults charged with their care.

“For many children who were in Smyllum and Bellevue, the homes were places of fear, coercive control, threat, excessive discipline and emotional, physical and sexual abuse, where they found no love, no compassion, no dignity and no comfort,” she said.

Smith added: “For some children, being hit was a normal aspect of daily life.”

It emerged in August that at least 16 former members of staff at Smyllum Park – mostly women, including several nuns – had been arrested by Police Scotland and charged over alleged abuse. Their cases have now been referred to a specialist unit at the Crown Office, Scotland’s prosecution service.

The first phases of Smith’s inquiry, which is due to run until late 2019 at the earliest, focused on at times horrific accounts of the treatment meted out by staff at Smyllum Park, which was shut down in 1981. She heard testimony from 54 witnesses alongside 21 written statements.

Smith also upheld allegations from some residents that they were systematically sexually abused by priests, a trainee priest, nuns and lay members of staff. Some were preyed on by paedophiles who took them from Smyllum to another DoC home at St Vincent’s in Newcastle. “There was also problematic sexual behaviour by other children,” she said.

One child, Samuel Carr, died aged six after contracting E coli from a rat. He had been malnourished and “received a severe beating from a sister not long before his death”.

Smith records former residents being:

  • Physically assaulted with hairbrushes, the leather belt or tawse, rosary beads and wooden crucifixes.
  • Force-fed at meal times, such that some vomited it back.
  • Forced to wear their wet sheets and verbally humiliated after wetting the bed.
  •  Used as unpaid labour when staff numbers were short.

While Smith focused on the period from 1917 to 1981, more than 11,600 children were placed at Smyllum Park from its opening in 1864 until its closure 117 years later. Nearly 6,600 children lived at Bellevue House from its opening in 1912 until 1943, but no records show how many were there until its closure in 1961.

Some residents were orphaned, but others were from families unable to look after them. Smyllum Park’s notoriety grew after it emerged last year the remains of up to 400 children once resident there were buried in a large plot of unmarked graves in a cemetery nearby. Death certificates revealed that many of the children died from tuberculosis, pneumonia and pleurisy.