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Inquiry hears of 'sectarian abuse' at state-run institution

Published 01/09/2015

Sir Anthony Hart at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry
Sir Anthony Hart at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry

Children were allegedly subjected to sectarian abuse by staff at a state-run institution in Northern Ireland, a lawyer told a public inquiry.

Catholic and Protestant residents fought at Lisnevin training school in Newtownards, near Belfast, during the height of the conflict, witnesses have told the Historical Institutional Abuse probe.

Lawyer Christine Smith QC said there was an allegation of "daily fights between Catholic and Protestant residents" during the 1970s.

Lisnevin in 1973 was non-denominational between Catholics and Protestants. However, Ms Smith said there was a claim by a former resident of "sectarian abuse from other residents and from staff" .

Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart is leading the HIA probe, one of the UK's largest inquiries into physical, sexual and emotional harm to children at homes run by the church, state and voluntary organisations.

Its seventh module, expected to last until November, will focus on allegations arising out of St Patrick's Training School and Hydebank Young Offenders' Centre in Belfast, Rathgael Training School in Bangor and Lisnevin Training School in Newtownards, Co Down.

Some of the residents spent time in one institution, some in all four. A total of 27 people have come forward to make claims about St Patrick's which will be the first to be dealt with, Ms Smith said.

This module will hear evidence from about 48 applicants to the Inquiry. Evidence will be heard first about St Patrick's, which was run by the De La Salle Order of Catholic brothers on the Glen Road in West Belfast.

The final institution to be considered will be Lisnevin Training School, which was located in Newtownards from 1973 to 2003 and Hydebank Young Offenders' Centre, which opened in June 1979 with accommodation for 325 young people and is still operating.

Children could be admitted to one of the schools for truancy, some of the witnesses have said they were in need of care and should not be put in the same place as offenders.

One 1970s inmate told the inquiry: "I was sent to Rathgael because I was playing truant, I was in there with boys who had committed considerable offences, for example...paramilitary activities. I turned from being bullied into being a bully.

"I was not safe."

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