Goldenbridge: ‘Allegations of abuse perpetrated by lay workers’ Ryan Report: 7.164 – 7.192

Allegations of abuse perpetrated by lay workers

7.164 The Investigation Committee heard a number of allegations against lay workers who were employed in the Institution. There were three different categories of lay worker in Goldenbridge.

7.165 There were four teachers in the internal primary school, two of whom were nuns, together with two lay teachers.

7.166 The second category of lay worker was the staff who looked after kitchens and dormitories and who were, to a very large extent, the people at the centre of childcare in Goldenbridge. These lay workers were responsible for the day-to-day running of the Institution, but were of course subject to the authority of the Resident Manager and her Assistant Sister at the time. Their task was mainly to assist with the supervision of the children before and after school hours. They worked in shifts, two on and two off. The lay staff were not trained in any aspects of childcare.

7.167 In the third category were former pupils who were retained as helpers, at the expiry of their detention orders at the age of 16. Sr Alida stated that there were only three former pupils towards the end of her tenure in Goldenbridge who were retained as helpers, although this number was greater in the earlier years. She said:

There were two or three girls who had no motivation to leave, had difficulty of their own; one was severely handicapped mentally and incapable of making her own way in the world, the other had a very serious speech defect and I cannot put down exactly, obesity I suppose I would say for the third, which we tried to get treated and it didn’t change. They would be the only three past pupils that were working in the school that I can remember in my time.

7.168 Sr Alida’s description of the former pupils who were retained to look after the other children and work in the Industrial School would suggest they were entirely unsuitable to work with children.

7.169 One complainant, who was in Goldenbridge between from the early 1950s to the late 1960s, spoke at length about the care workers who were there. She described many of them as very cruel. She described one incident where she was being administered cod liver oil by a care worker, and when it was her turn she said, ‘Thank you, Ms Rafter’,13 with a smile on her face. She said that this infuriated the care worker, who dragged her into a linen room, threw her on a table and took off her underpants. She hit her from head to toe with a hand brush, and then put a nappy on her.

7.170 She said that, on another occasion, she was beaten for making a comment while she was watching television. She ran away as a result of this, but was brought back. She told Sr Venetia that she had run away because she was sick of being hit. She said she doesn’t believe her complaint had any impact on Sr Venetia, but that, on a subsequent occasion, one of the smaller children had come up to her and her friends with no clothes on and full of bruises. When they asked her what was wrong, she said that Ms Rafter had hit her because she had worn her knickers in bed. This complainant and her friends went to Sr Venetia and said that they would go to theEvening Press or the Herald if the beatings didn’t stop and ‘all those kind of, what we classed as carers now, they were gone in two weeks. They were cruel’.

7.171 This complainant named four care workers, who were all removed very shortly after the complaints had been made to Sr Venetia. This complainant said that Goldenbridge did improve after that had occurred, although it still was not a nice place.

7.172 Another complainant, who was in Goldenbridge between the mid-1950s and the mid-1960s, said that one carer, who looked after the babies, stood out in her mind as being very kind to the children. She said that she was one of the inmates of the Institution who had been kept on and given a job there. Another former resident, who remained in the School to work as a carer, stood out in her memory: she described her as a product of the system. She often woke the children up in the morning, and she would sometimes lift a mattress and throw it onto the floor with the child on it. This complainant said that Ms Thornton14 was ‘a very very aggressive woman’.

7.173 This complainant had a certain amount of compassion and understanding for Ms Thornton, and said: ‘She never knew any different, she grew up in the system. When I think now in retrospect I kind of feel sorry for her’.

7.174 This witness recalls another staff member, who was a woman of very, very low intellect, who used to put her hands up the children’s skirts if they were carrying anything into the kitchen or washing dishes. Again, the complainant had compassion and understanding and did not blame this person.

7.175 She talked about a third incident, where a minder threw her into a swimming pool when they were on holidays in Rathdrum. She said that this minder used to treat her badly if there was a nun around to witness it, ‘She done that to get attention from the nun that was approaching. It was just a case of silly behaviour’.

7.176 What clearly emerged from the evidence of this witness is that, although she was subjected to abuse herself, she does not hold the lay workers responsible because they were either so damaged by the system themselves or they were intellectually incapable of understanding what they were doing. In many ways, this is a view that is reflected by a number of complainants, and it is more a reflection on the authorities in Goldenbridge, who employed these unfortunate women and left them in charge of children, than on the women themselves.

7.177 A complainant, who was in Goldenbridge from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, also spoke at some length about the lay staff. She mentioned a lay member of staff and said that she was worse than Sr Alida: ‘She was allowed to run riot. She brutalised the children’. She said that these people were not teachers, but were carers and supervised the children. She said that the older inmates in the Institution did all the work like washing, bead making and looking after the children, but these carers supervised all of that. This complainant also spoke about being a personal maid to one of the care staff. She said that she cleaned her room, put on her hot water bottle, made her bed, cleaned her floor, ironed her clothes and generally looked after her.

7.178 The witnesses who attended Goldenbridge in the late 1950s and 1960s were vocal in their criticism of the care workers who were in the Institution at that time. The main criticism is that these young girls, who had themselves come through Goldenbridge, were unsupervised and uncontrolled by the authorities in Goldenbridge. This does not seem to have been as big a complaint while Sr Alida was the nun in charge of the day-to-day running of the Institution but when Sr Venetia took over the day-to-day management, this did emerge as a major issue.

7.179 A witness complained of being badly beaten by Ms Rafter, who was the subject of an earlier complaint to Sr Venetia and was finally removed by her in the late 1960s. This complainant also identified Ms Thornton who she said beat a girl in the dining hall, ‘Ms Thornton was violent, she was a very violent person. She was another one that you were frightened to look at’.

7.180 This complainant again made the point that, at this stage, Goldenbridge was being run and looked after by lay staff and older girls. She said that, although the nuns were there and Sr Venetia was in charge, the real running of the Institution was left to lay staff.

7.181 Another complainant spoke about her experience in Goldenbridge and was quite frank about the impact her experience had on her own personal development. She said that a lot of the actions taken in Goldenbridge were done deliberately to embarrass and humiliate the children. She said ‘I’ll put it like this, I find a lot of the women who looked after us, including Sr Venetia, I find a lot of them in me. I will do things to embarrass people if I don’t like them. I try not to’.

7.182Another complainant singled out Ms Thornton as being particularly cruel. She said that she had a grudge against an awful lot of people. She said that, on one occasion, when she tried to intervene because Ms Thornton was hitting her brother, Ms Thornton twisted her arm and actually broke it. She said that she was too terrified of Ms Thornton to tell Sr Venetia what had happened, and so she told her that she had hurt it in the washing machine. She was afraid that, if she had told on Ms Thornton, her little brother would have been victimised by her.

7.183 She said that Ms Thornton was particularly cruel to the little boys, and that she told other girls about this, and eventually it got back to Sr Venetia, but she only got beaten and had her head shaved by a member of the lay staff as a result.

7.184 One complainant who was in Goldenbridge in the 1960s was one of the most condemnatory of the lay staff in Goldenbridge. She described a regime where the unqualified and largely ill-educated lay staff were effectively out of control and administering severe physical punishment.

7.185 Abuse by lay staff became a major feature of life in Goldenbridge in the 1950s and 1960s and continued until, eventually in 1966, Sr Venetia removed four particularly abusive lay staff members, and conditions improved thereafter.

7.186 This complainant’s recollection is of one of those staff members who was finally complained about to Sr Venetia, and she describes her as ‘an absolute demon’. She recalls her dragging her off a bed in the dormitory, pulling off her clothes and beating her in front of other girls. She said that she boxed her, kicked her and threw her to the floor. She was left in a very bad state, and that night woke up screaming in her sleep. Somebody went and got Sr Venetia, who was told what had happened to her, but as far as she knew that was the end of the matter. This complainant says that, some time later, another child received a similar beating from Ms Rafter. She said:

I was finished, I was shattered, I couldn’t fight any more, I was finished. I just felt utterly hopeless, it was over, I could have died, I didn’t care. She broke my spirit completely and I had plenty of it but she broke it and it has taken me years and years and years to recover any of it and I still will never get over that woman.

7.187 This complainant said that this lay staff worker was often in charge of the recreation hall. She said that this was a huge room, and was used for recreation if the weather prevented the children from going outside. She said:

We used to go into that room and you would have to sit like this (indicating) your finger on your lip (indicating) and you dare not move and I mean move or display any body language. If you looked and caught your friend’s eye across the other side of the room or if you winked or blinked or anything there was this orgy of violence that followed. Nothing short of an orgy of violence.

7.188 The complainant said that the nuns were never present during any of this, that they were always in the convent. She said that these lay workers, not just Ms Rafter, but others whom she named, kicked the children, pulled off their clothes, pulled them by their hair, beat them and battered them. She said she would never forget those fights as long as she lived, and that she has had to live with it almost every day of her life. She said she recalls one little girl getting an appalling beating because she asked one of the carers ‘Is your name Ms Rafter?’. She said that those carers should have been named as respondents and been forced to answer for what they did. She said this was something that happened every day, especially in the wintertime, but she said it was not just in the recreation hall, it also happened in the dormitories after the nun had gone back to the convent.

7.189 Another complainant, who was in Goldenbridge in the 1960s, also spoke about the bullying that went on in the School. Again, this is a complaint that was not seen in the 1940s and 1950s, when there appeared to be a great deal more control over the School. By the 1960s, undoubtedly the issue of bullying had arisen. This complainant said that there were a lot of bullies in the School, and that it was survival of the fittest. She said that this bullying was conducted by members of the staff and that, as a child, she found that these people did not care. She said that they were doing their job, but that there was a great deal of punishment. She said that these lay people had a great deal of power and they inflicted severe beatings.

7.190 Another complainant who was in Goldenbridge in the early 1960s was a small boy when admitted. He remembers getting beatings, particularly for bed-wetting. He said:

You had girls in charge. You had nuns, then you had outsiders, you had elder girls put in charge of the younger ones, they used to give as nearly as much beatings as what the nuns did for certain things. After being out of there and you think back, these girls were brought up with that sort of treatment and they portrayed that on younger kids. They were in there for years so that is all they knew, but you were underneath these people ‘cos they were bigger and stronger and there longer, so you were getting it at every angle.

7.191 Sr Alida in her evidence stated that lay staff were not authorised to slap children and that, as far as she knew, they did not do so. She said that, as far as she was aware, she and Sr Bianca, or later she and Sr Venetia, were the only persons who administered corporal punishment in the School, and the lay staff left any problems for them to deal with.

7.192 She also said that she believed that the two lay workers who were left in charge while she and Sr Venetia went over to the convent in the evenings had a difficult task maintaining discipline, and that was why there would be children waiting for her on the landing.


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