‘Sisters of Nazareth nuns beat me with strap for wetting bed’

News Letter
June 10, 2015

Violent nuns treated children at a Belfast care home with hatred, an alleged victim has told the High Court.

Michael McKee, 65, claimed he was beaten with a leather strap for either wetting or failing to make his bed properly at Nazareth Lodge.

Telling a judge he was attacked on a daily basis after entering the institution back in 1958, he questioned whether the alleged perpetrators viewed him as “sub-human”.

Mr McKee is suing The Sisters of Nazareth over the physical abuse he claims to have been subjected to during his stay as an eight-year-old boy.

Lawyers for the congregation are defending the action by challenging the reliability of his account and questioning why he waited half a century.

According to available records Mr McKee spent 73 days at Nazareth House after being admitted with his older brother due to their parents’ ill-health.

In his evidence he recalled arriving at the home in the back of a van in the middle of the night.

Although he couldn’t remember their names, he claimed two of the nuns were responsible for violence in the dormitory and classroom.

One of the alleged perpetrators carried a 12-inch leather strap used to punish anyone who wet their bed or didn’t make it to the required standard, the court heard.

“I was beaten on my head, grabbed by the hair and pulled to the ground,” he claimed.

“I was dragged around the room, beaten from the back and then finished off round my legs.”

According to Mr McKee the boys were locked in their bedroom at night to await the next day’s violence.

“You could hear the rattle of keys in the morning, and then all hell would break loose,” he said.

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 allegedly suffer further ill-treatment at the hands of another nun in charge of his education.

“I had to learn these catechisms and prayers, and this nun would smack my head off the board,” he told the court.

It was claimed that she used a ruler to inflict some of the blows.

Claiming other children were equally distressed, Mr McKee said: “You were living in fear.”

Asked by his counsel, Ashley Underwood QC, how he felt about the Sisters, the plaintiff described himself as angry.

“People of the church, how they could treat children like that,” he replied.

“The violence they were using, I understand that children at that stage of life could be corrected for bad behaviour, but this was unjust violence – it was like a hatred.

“I’ve often thought about it to this day, those nuns could have nieces and nephews outside the convent.

“Did they see us as something different, were we something sub-human? Did they go home and enjoy their nieces and nephews and draw a line at this?”

Turlough Montague QC, for the defendants, told the court that the Sisters of Nazareth has admitted to the ongoing Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry that some children were mistreated.

But questioning Mr McKee’s allegations, he contended: “The focus should be on the reasons for the delay in bringing this action half a century later and how that delay has affected the evidence.”

During cross-examination he contended that Mr McKee’s memory was flawed on the age he entered Nazareth Lodge and the length of time he stayed there.

The barrister also challenged him about his graphic description of alleged brutality, asking why he never gave that account to police.

Mr Montague further accused him of providing a completely different version of events to a doctor in the case.

Following his evidence the trial was adjourned until September.


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