Psychotic nuns ran children's home like Nazi concentration camp, abuse inquiry is told
* We were bathed in Jeyes fluid, says a former resident * Chain gangs had to polish floor until it sparkled * Boy reported being abused, but sister did nothing
Nuns who ran a hellhole children's home in Northern Ireland were virtually psychotic, a former resident said.
The Sisters of Nazareth property in Londonderry was like a Nazi concentration camp, with youngsters' screams of despair still haunting survivors, the UK's largest ever inquiry into institutional child abuse was told.
Inmates formed chain gangs to polish floors until they sparkled – with arms linked and rags under both feet – and were beaten with bamboo canes and straps.
One witness reported how the nuns used to wash the children with Jeyes fluid – a strong disinfectant normally used for outdoor cleaning jobs.
Another revealed how he tried to report sexual abuse by older boys to a nun.
The sister said: "You are a bad boy, you are going to Hell, nothing like that ever happened."
He said the assault happened in St Joseph's Home, Termonbacca, in Londonderry. The witness said: "That was the reaction, a coldness and heartlessness about the place that will always scare you. I never heard children cry like I have in that place, it was one of despair and that still haunts me a little bit, it was a scream of despair."
One witness described the atmosphere.
"It was a form of psychological abuse... you were worth nothing," he said.
Another added: "The whole atmosphere of Termonbacca was not asking and not being informed, you were a number, you were not worthy of information, you were told what to do."
He was transferred from Derry to a home in Salthill, on the outskirts of Galway city, run by the Christian Brothers.
"The comparison was two hellholes. Which was better?
"It is difficult to describe when things are bad, you are on a race to the bottom. Salthill was Auschwitz; Termonbacca was Treblinka, it was somewhat better," he said.
One witness said nuns bordered on psychotic at times.
He added: "There was always a hovering threat of something about to happen, even if it did not happen, not happening was in itself a threat.
"It exploded in rage or very ironic, cynical, derogatory (comments) or anything that could be said that could purposefully put you into a psychologically negative landscape, that was their major modus operandi."
Another witness suffered depression and was silent and withdrawn as a child. He is still seeing a doctor about mental health issues.
He was attacked by older boys, pushed to the ground and beaten.
"There were times I thought I was going to die – it was torture to face another day," he said.
He later lived south of the border. "The Republic of Ireland, I am sorry to say, was a cruel and unjust place for people of my background. There was no support," he said.
"They did not want us at all, there was no understanding, there was a lot of ignorance."
He said the Northern Ireland Executive should not delay because victims were ageing.
Another witness was forced to bring nuns canes to hit him with.
He said: "The only ones I knew were very, very cruel."
He was once beaten for having a hole in his sock, and also at school for laughing when an ink pot exploded over a desk.
They would go to bed early, because being in bed was a form of control by nuns, he testified, adding he would be praying he did not wet the bed.
"They could get on with their praying... who they are praying to, I am not too sure."
The treatment of children in Church-run residential homes is a key concern of the investigation being held in Banbridge, Co Down. It is chaired by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart. Christine Smith QC (below) is senior counsel for the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, which is considering cases in 13 residential institutions between 1922, the foundation of Northern Ireland, and 1995. Public hearings are due to finish in June 2015, with the inquiry team to report to Stormont's power-sharing Executive by the start of 2016.
Bath time 'was like lining up for the gas chamber'
Bath time at a children's home in Londonderry was like being sent to the gas chamber, the historical abuse inquiry has heard.
A former resident told the inquiry that the the Sisters of Nazareth used to bathe children with Jeyes fluid, a strong chemical detergent used to clear drains, and compared the washing regime to the Nazi gas chambers used in the Holocaust.
"It was kind of like a Zyklon B gas chamber, it was the general cleaning method used for children," he said.
He alleged that aged five or six he was taken out of bed at night and sexually abused in a bathroom by a woman, perhaps a nun or a civilian worker.
"It was something that was happening outside my body... I am not there although I am there," he said. "It is as clear today, sadly, because I would love it not to be so clear, but the effects of it were monumental.
"The damage has been done and is permanent and does not go away. They are on their own, they are lonely and sad and broken."
On Monday Christine Smith QC, for the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, criticised the Sisters of Nazareth for their "less than wholehearted" and slow efforts to hand over evidence.
Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said this approach was leading to concerns that this is a deliberate tactic to delay and frustrate the investigations of the inquiry.
"Given the fixed lifespan which the Northern Ireland Executive has put in place for the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, we are concerned that late submission of evidence by respondents might undermine the ability of the inquiry to establish the full truth of abuse suffered by children before it is able to conclude its work," he said.