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Man beaten by nuns in 1958 loses claim due to 40-year delay

By Alan Erwin

Published 07/11/2015

A former children's care home resident allegedly treated with
A former children's care home resident allegedly treated with "callous indifference" has been denied compensation because it took him too long to make a claim

A former children's care home resident allegedly treated with "callous indifference" has been denied compensation because it took him too long to make a claim.

At the High Court, Mr Justice Horner said Michael McKee would have been entitled to £6,500 over his stay at Nazareth Lodge in Belfast nearly 60 years ago.

But the claim was dismissed because of the excessive time he took to bring proceedings.

The 65-year-old sued the Sisters of Nazareth over the physical abuse he allegedly suffered as an eight-year-old in 1958.

Mr McKee, who spent 73 days at the home, told the court he had been attacked every day.

He alleged he had been beaten around the head and pulled to the ground, and claimed that one alleged perpetrator used a 12-inch leather strap to punish any boy who wet the bed.

The court heard that while Mr McKee only wet the bed once, he was marched around in the night with everyone else any time it happened to another boy. Children were also hit for slow learning, according to his case.

Lawyers for the congregation defended the case by challenging the reliability of Mr McKee's account and questioning why he waited half a century to take legal action.

Counsel for the defendants said the Sisters of Nazareth accepted at the ongoing Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry that some children were mistreated.

But they argued that Mr McKee's evidence was unreliable and riddled with inconsistencies.

Ruling on the action yesterday, Mr Justice Horner said the regime at Nazareth Lodge was "spartan and harsh". He added: "Love and tenderness were in short supply. The plaintiff was treated with cold, callous indifference.

"Bed-wetting was punished by physical chastisement and humiliation.

"However, there were some opportunities for football, swimming, dancing and the cinema."

Under court rules, personal injury actions normally have to be mounted within three years of the incident.

Mr McKee was held to have had the knowledge needed to take a case when he was age of 21.

Because of the "very substantial delay" of more than 40 years from that point, he was statute-barred, the judge decided.

Had the claim not been prohibited over the delay, Mr Justice Horner said there was sufficient evidence to support claims that the corporal punishment of children went beyond what was reasonable and controlled - even by the standards of 1958.

With the possibility of a future appeal, he also set out his verdict on the level of damages to which Mr McKee would have been entitled.

The judge rejected claims that the stay in Nazareth Lodge was the cause of the psychological and psychiatric problems that have blighted Mr McKee's life.

But setting the award at £6,500 had the case not been statute-barred, he said the plaintiff was entitled to compensation for the emotional distress he suffered as a consequence of fearing what would happen to him if he wet his bed.

Belfast Telegraph

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