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Nuns beat children who wet beds or learned too slowly, abuse hearing told

By Alan Erwin

Published 15/09/2015

Ashley Underwood QC said Michael McKee was beaten
Ashley Underwood QC said Michael McKee was beaten

Nuns at a Belfast care home beat children for slow learning in the classroom, the High Court has heard.

One former resident at Nazareth Lodge is also entitled to damages for punishments meted out after boys wet their beds, it was claimed.

Michael McKee (65) is suing The Sisters of Nazareth over the physical abuse he allegedly suffered during his stay as an eight-year-old boy in 1958.

Lawyers for the congregation are defending the case by challenging the reliability of his account and questioning why he waited 50 years to take action.

According to records Mr McKee spent 73 days at the home after being admitted with his older brother. In evidence he claimed he was attacked on a daily basis. Although he couldn't remember their names, he said two of the nuns were responsible for violence. He claimed he was beaten about the head, grabbed by the hair, pulled to the ground and hit round the legs.

Mr McKee told how he came from a mixed marriage, but was baptised as a Catholic after going into the home. He said he was fast-tracked for holy communion, only to suffer further ill-treatment at the hands of another nun.

In closing submissions yesterday, Ashley Underwood QC, for Mr McKee said: "The core complaints here are the hitting while in the classroom as a punishment for slow learning, and the collective punishment for bed wetting".

The court was told Mr McKee only wet the bed once, but was marched around in the middle of the night with everyone else any time it happened to another boy. Mr Underwood contended that this "collective punishment" left him in fear of future violence.

All that his client experienced contributed to his future difficulties in holding down jobs, forming friendships and anger towards others, he argued.

Turlough Montague QC, for the defendants, told Mr Justice Horner that the Sisters of Nazareth has accepted at the ongoing Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry that some children were mistreated by some nuns.

But responding to Mr McKee's claim, he contended: "The plaintiff's evidence was riddled with material inconsistencies.

He added: "The plaintiff depicted a very bleak, harsh environment where children were not allowed to speak in the dormitories and not allowed to play outside, with no areas for football.

"That is directly rebutted by the contemporaneous inspections, records that were referred to in the course of evidence and Nazareth Lodge diaries about activities children engaged in.

Reserving judgment, Mr Justice Horner pledged to give his verdict as soon as possible.

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