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Woman beaten by sticks at care home 80 years ago 'left it too late to claim £27k compensation'

By Alan Erwin

Published 14/11/2015

A woman abused at a children's home up to 80 years ago would have been awarded £27,500 in damages but for delays in bringing her action, a High Court judge ruled
A woman abused at a children's home up to 80 years ago would have been awarded £27,500 in damages but for delays in bringing her action, a High Court judge ruled

A woman abused at a children's home up to 80 years ago would have been awarded £27,500 in damages but for delays in bringing her action, a High Court judge ruled.

Una Irvine claimed she was hit with a stick with nails in it for stealing apples as part of physical and psychological cruelty endured at Nazareth Lodge in Belfast.

Despite deciding the 85-year-old was subjected to a "harsh and uncaring regime", Mr Justice Colton dismissed her case on the grounds of being statute barred.

He held there was no discretion to the limitation period and could not identify any reasons for an "extraordinary" delay of more than half a century.

The judge said: "It appears the plaintiff herself is not even aware that she is bringing this claim."

Mrs Irvine spent over nine years at the home on the Ravenhill Road after being taken there as a four-year-old in 1935.

In an action against the Sisters of Nazareth, she sought damages for personal injuries allegedly suffered due to physical and psychological abuse. The court heard claims that one nun brandished a cane and frequently smacked her.

She also alleged that a priest struck her, and that she was made to stand in a corner with the word 'Dunce' written on her back during school.

A stick with nails in it was used to inflict punishment after being caught stealing apples from a nearby orchard, according to her evidence.

Mrs Irvine also described being refused permission to go to the toilet, and having to wet herself before being able to clean herself.

Lawyers for the Sisters of Nazareth contended that her case was statute barred due to the lapse of time in taking legal action.

With the cut off date identified as occurring in August 1957, the judge backed their argument.

"The defendants do enjoy an unassailable time bar defence," Mr Justice Colton confirmed.

Highlighting the difficulties in securing a fair trial, he said all those accused are now dead.

Despite his verdict, he held that there was enough evidence to support Mrs Irvine's claim.

Disciplinary standards in the 1930s and 1940s were very different from now, the judge noted.

He said: "Taking that into account I am of the view that the plaintiff was subjected to corporal punishment which went beyond what was reasonable and lawful."

Compensation of £7,500 would have been made for physical injuries, and a further £20,000 for vulnerability to subsequent psychiatric injuries.

Mr Justice Colton said: "Accordingly, had it not been for the limitation issue, I would have awarded the plaintiff the sum of £27,500."

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