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Inquiry told of 'sectarian abuse' at Co Down training school

By Michael McHugh

Published 02/09/2015

hairman, Sir Anthony Hart
hairman, Sir Anthony Hart
Christine Smith QC at the Historical Abuse Inquiry yesterday

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

Catholic and Protestant residents fought at Lisnevin training school in Newtownards during the height of the Troubles, 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.

In 1973 Lisnevin was shared 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".

A total of 27 people have come forward to make claims about St Patrick's which will be the first of four institutions investigated in the current section to be dealt with, Ms Smith said.

Children could be admitted to one of the schools for truancy, and 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."

Yesterday, evidence was heard about St Patrick's - which was run by the De La Salle Order of Catholic brothers on the Glen Road in west Belfast - where sexual abuse by a member of staff has been proven.

But a lawyer said fewer than 2% of residents there made abuse allegations.

Police considered some of the claims to be "demonstrably" false, Joseph Aiken said. Of more than 4,000 residents, only 66 individuals (1.45%) made allegations to the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry of some form of abuse.

Mr Aiken said: "Its size in percentage terms (1.45%) is striking in comparison to, for instance, Rubane where approximately 20% of the 1,050 children who passed through that institution had made allegations of abuse in one form or another."

St Patrick's closed in 1995.

Mr Aiken added some individuals "made allegations that to the police were considered to be false and in some instances demonstrably so".

He said one member of staff, Francis Smyth, sexually abused children, and that had been accepted. He was convicted in 1994 of the abuse of boys between 1975 and 1979.

"De La Salle accepts that the order did not deal appropriately with complaints they contemporaneously received about the member of staff," he added.


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.

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