Goldenbridge: Informal punishments: Ryan Report: 7.141 – 7.148

Informal punishments

7.141 Witnesses spoke of other ways in which corporal punishment was administered unfairly and undeservedly. They claimed it was used so commonly that it was impossible to avoid it. One witness, who was in Goldenbridge in the 1940s from seven years of age, told the Committee:

I would stand there and when you hear the noise and the shouting, the roaring and the screaming, then what did I used to do I used to stand there with urine running down my legs with the fear of knowing that whatever you were going to do, whatever you were going to say … you couldn’t say anything, if you looked at them you got clattered. If you looked away you got clattered. If you put your head down you got clattered. So what could you do? I used to try and disappear into the ether … You knew that you could never get away from the cruelty. You couldn’t escape and take yourself off.

7.142 Many witnesses testified that there was no way that they could avoid being slapped, whether for behaviour regarded as seriously wrong or for something trivial, or indeed for no apparent reason. When punishment was administered, there was no necessary correlation between the seriousness of the infraction and the severity of the beating.

7.143 There was no body of rules governing the occasions or the circumstances in which punishment would be administered. There was no punishment book. Records were not kept as to the punishments imposed. Staff were not instructed as to what was permissible.

7.144 The absence of any obligation to record punishment meant that the infliction of punishment was, in practice, unregulated. There is general acceptance that punishment happened too often and too severely and in an unrecorded and unregulated manner.

7.145 The absence of rules meant that the children did not know how to avoid punishment. Without a clear system in place to make punishment predictable and avoidable, the children lived in fear, and those in authority became indifferent to good order and discipline in themselves. The adults were given so much autonomy that they alone decided whether to give punishment or not, and they alone decided what warranted it. They decided how much punishment was given and in what manner it was administered.

7.146 It should have been the case that the Manager, or somebody deputed on her behalf for that purpose, administer the punishment and then record it. The actuality was different. The nun in charge of the girls or her assistant regularly and frequently administered punishment with a stick. The respondent evidence was that it was confined to slapping on the hands and then in moderate quantity. There was, however, a preponderance of persuasive evidence to the contrary, that slapping was not confined in that way. Instead, it could happen that a child would be struck on the hand or arm, or indeed on the legs or some other part of the body.

7.147 Children were sometimes punished by being locked into a room, described as the furnace, and one witness described a particularly terrifying experience when she had offended one of the care workers and found herself locked in. She could not remember how long she was there, but screamed all the time. Care assistants also punished the children. These workers had grown up in Goldenbridge and knew no other method of coping with children. They were scarcely more than children themselves, and their moral responsibility for what they were doing was slight by comparison with others in higher positions in the ladder of authority.

7.148 A former teacher, now of advanced years, gave compelling evidence of the environment generally and the state of the children in Goldenbridge during her years. On the issue of punishment, she said that she used a ruler for most of her time in preference to a leather strap, which she had been given at the beginning of her career but which she had rejected when she accidentally discovered how painful it was. When she was asked whether she used the flat of the ruler or the edge of it, as some witnesses had testified, she candidly acknowledged that sometimes she used the edge, when children had particularly annoyed her.

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