‘Today was utterly shocking’: Fornethy abuse survivors react with fury as SNP’s Shona Robison snubs compensation scheme

Survivors of historical abuse at Fornethy House in Angus reacted with fury after they were blocked by the SNP from a compensation scheme.

Dismayed campaigner Marion Reid, who attended the institution in the 1960s, slated Deputy First Minister Shona Robison’s reasons for excluding them, saying: “I’ve never heard so much rubbish in all my life.”

Other women who joined an emotionally charged Holyrood meeting on Wednesday morning said they felt like walking out.

And four of the women who shared their experience and anger with The Courier today claim they have been let down – and now want to take the fight to Westminster.

Trips were supposed to be a ‘holiday’

From 1961 onwards, young girls in Glasgow were sent to the residential school in Kilry for visits of six to eight weeks.

The trips were described as a holiday, but while there girls were repeatedly subjected to horrendous sexual and physical abuse.

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison. Image: PA

More than 200 hundred women have come forward to say they were beaten by staff and force-fed when they could not finish their meals.

Women who went to Fornethy say they should get access to the Scottish Government’s redress scheme, set up to compensate historic abuse victims from before December 2004.

It’s a brick wall for us. We’re frustrated and angry.

– Survivor Lynne Sheerin.

Ms Robison, who is also the Scottish finance chief and MSP for Dundee East, said survivors were not eligible for cash because they were not at the school for long-term stays, and records proving they went there have been destroyed.

Campaigners told The Courier that was not good enough, slating the remarks to a heated Holyrood petitions committee session.

Fornethy survivors in the public gallery could be heard groaning in frustration as Ms Robison tried to explain the government’s decision.

Lynne Sheeran went to Fornethy House. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

‘I wanted to walk out’

“I’m very, very angry,” said survivor Lynne Sheerin. “Every route that we go down, we go so far down that route, and then it’s a brick wall for us. We’re frustrated and angry.”

“I wanted to get up and walk out,” said Carol Robertson, describing how she felt when Ms Robison left survivors sitting behind her disappointed.

Campaigners say it should not matter whether young girls only went to the school on a short-term basis given the abuse they were subjected to.

Survivors also say their parents were often coerced into sending them to Fornethy House by education council chiefs.

They also claim a lack of available records should not matter due to the sheer scale of abuse that was carried out.

Marion Reid with signs from an earlier protest at Holyrood.

Ms Robison said she did not doubt the stories of survivors, but that is of little comfort to them.

“She can sit there and say we believe you, but then in the next breath say we want proof,” said lead campaigner Marion, from Carluke.

Marion – who went to Fornethy in 1965 – added: “Today was just utterly shocking. What I’ve heard isn’t a surprise. She’s thinking of the purse-strings. This proof element just doesn’t wash.”

Ms Robison faced tough questions from MSPs on the petitions committee – including from her own party – over her refusal to alter the compensation scheme.

Veteran nationalist Fergus Ewing asked whether she was committing a “manifest injustice” by refusing to give survivors cash.

He asked: “Can we not just admit, be big enough to admit we got it wrong, but put it right – is that not what this Parliament is for?”

Inverness and Nairn SNP MSP Fergus Ewing. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson
Fergus Ewing raised concerns in the petitions committee. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Ms Robison claimed making the redress scheme more generous would potentially open the floodgates to thousands of unprovable claims from historic victims.

MSP Maurice Golden, whose North East region takes in Angus, said: “Today’s evidence from the deputy first minister was somewhat lacking in empathy and contrition.

“Shona Robison’s predecessor, John Swinney made it clear last year that he believed the Fornethy survivors fell ‘within the ambit’ of the Redress Scheme.

“So to hear, one year on, the Deputy First Minister does not believe there is enough evidence from survivors to merit inclusion, feels like a dangerous backwards step.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar told us: “In all my time in parliament, I struggle to think of anything as harrowing and as emotional as what happened to these women.”

Abuse ‘in front of their eyes’

Fornethy House in Kilry, Angus. Image: Steve Brown / DC Thomson.

Kelle Fox, who stayed at Fornethy in 1978, described how young girls could see the widespread abuse being carried out in front of their eyes.

She told us: “If you weren’t being abused, you were watching everybody else being abused.

“Even if you weren’t being force-fed until you were sick, you made sure that never happened to you.”

Fed-up campaigners who insist the Scottish Government is doing nothing to help them say they want to take their fight for justice all the way to Westminster.

“We’re getting nowhere. We may decide to take it to Westminster.

“Why not? We need to go higher than the Scottish Government.”

Abused as children while on holiday in Angus. Now these women want justice


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