Belfast Telegraph

Belfast woman found not guilty of cruelty offences at Belfast children's home

Ruth Colvin
Ruth Colvin

By John Cassidy

A jury found an elderly woman not guilty by a unanimous verdict of child cruelty offences on Friday.

Ruth Colvin (75), formerly of Glendhu Manor but now residing in a nursing home in the east of the city - had been on trial at Belfast Crown Court accused of six separate counts of child cruelty between September 1974 and December 1976.

The complainant, a woman now aged 53, spent all of her childhood in care which included a period in Bawnmore Children's Home in south Belfast.

At the time the complainant was a resident in the mid-70s, the home was run by Ruth Colvin who was then aged 31.

Described as "matron", "house mother" or "auntie", the wheel-chair bound defendant denied attacking the then-youngster on a number of occasions.

The former resident said she was beaten by Colvin with a wooden Scholl sandal and with a stick.

She also claimed that Colvin pulled her hair and told her things like "you won't be a blue-eyed dolly".

The Belfast woman told the jury of nine men and three women that what Colvin said to her as a child still haunts her.

The woman told the jury: "It's not even the hitting, it's what she said to me. I've travelled around the world, I've been to different places and her voice haunted me."

Under cross-examination by Colvin's defence barrister David McDowell QC, the woman was asked about an alleged assault in a laundry room.

She replied: "I got hit on the head with a Scholl sandal. I got hit that hard my nose bled and I thought my brains were going to fall out."

The woman denied defence suggestions that she was making things up, and confirmed she had a criminal conviction for cheque book fraud in 1996.

When it was pointed out to her that there were inconsistencies between various statements and allegations she made, the woman admitted she was "a wee bit sketchy" when it came to specific dates, but insists the assaults did occur.

In her evidence to the trial, Colvin told her defence counsel that after working in children's homes, she then trained and became a social worker. She said she came before the court with a clear criminal record, and no other complaints against her.

She said that when she first started in the home she found the complainant "unsettled", and when asked "how did you cope with that?", Colvin replied "by being firm with her....by talking strictly with her".

Asked if the children respected her, she replied: "I would say so. I was nice, normal with them."

She was then asked "did you ever hit a child? Did you ever hit (the complainant?)". Colvin answered "no" to both questions.

Asked what she thought of the allegations, she replied: "Personally, I find it very hard to take, to accept, because I didn't do it, and I can't see the reason why she said it. I don't know, because she was unsettled and disturbed, perhaps."

Colvin denied pulling her hair, assaulting her in a laundry room and hitting her with a wooden stick. And when the accused was asked "would you ever have taken your shoe off and hit her around the head with it?", Colvin replied: "No. It's outrageous.''

She added: "Others would have known if she had got hit. There would be marks. There would have been questions asked of me. There would have been an inquiry."

Earlier this week as the trial entered its second week, a former resident came forward after reading press reports about the case to refute allegations made by the complainant, branding them a "load of crap''.

The 54-year-old woman said she was contacted by the complainant herself, who told her she was taking Colvin to court, and asked that she go to the police.

The woman said: "We had a bit of a conversation and I said to her 'That's not happening. You are full of it'.

"I told her 'I'm not going to do that' and said to her 'you weren't even there that long. What are you talking about? Nothing happened to you. Wise up'.''

After deliberating for around two hours, the jury returned and the fore person told Judge Roseanne McCormick QC that they had reached unanimous not guilty verdicts on all six charges.

Prosecution barrister Rosie Walsh told the court that she was "offering no evidence'' on a further four child cruelty charges faced by Colvin involving a male who "did not make himself available'' for the trial.

On direction of the judge, the jury returned not guilty verdicts on the four counts.

Addressing the jury, Judge McCormick told them: "The court is very grateful for the careful attention that you have shown throughout the trial. I wish you a Happy Christmas and a healthy 2019.''

Turning to Colvin, who was sitting in the body of the court in a wheelchair, the judge told her: "There is nothing outstanding against you so you are free to go.''

Colvin replied: "Thank you very much.''

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph