Northern Ireland

No payout for former care home boy due to delay

Mr McKee (65) sued The Sisters of Nazareth over the physical abuse he was allegedly subjected to during his stay as an eight-year-old boy back in 1958 
Mr McKee (65) sued The Sisters of Nazareth over the physical abuse he was allegedly subjected to during his stay as an eight-year-old boy back in 1958  Mr McKee (65) sued The Sisters of Nazareth over the physical abuse he was allegedly subjected to during his stay as an eight-year-old boy back in 1958 

A FORMER children's care home resident treated with "cold and callous indifference" is to be denied compensation due to his delay in taking legal action, a judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Horner held that Michael McKee would have been entitled to £6,500 for emotional distress in fearing the consequences of wetting the bed during his stay at Nazareth Lodge in Belfast nearly 60 years ago.

But the claim was dismissed as statute barred because of the excessive time he took to bring proceedings.

Mr McKee (65) sued The Sisters of Nazareth over the physical abuse he was allegedly subjected to during his stay as an eight-year-old boy back in 1958.

Lawyers for the congregation defended the case by challenging the reliability of his account and questioning why he waited half a century to take legal action.

Mr McKee spent 73 days at the home after being admitted with his older brother due to their parents' ill-health.

He told the High Court that violent nuns treated children at the home with hatred.

In evidence he claimed to have been attacked on a daily basis after arriving at the home in the back of a van in the middle of the night.

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

One alleged perpetrator carried a 12-inch leather strap used to punish anyone who wet their bed, the court heard.

He claimed to have been beaten about the head, grabbed by the hair, pulled to the ground and hit round the legs.

Boys were locked in their bedroom at night to await the next day's violence, when "all hell would break loose", it was alleged.

The court was told Mr McKee only wet the bed once, but was marched around in the middle of the night with everyone else any time it happened to another boy.

It was contended that this "collective punishment" left him in fear of future violence.

Children were also hit for slow learning, according to his case.

A lawyer for the defendants said the Sisters of Nazareth had accepted at the ongoing Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry that some children were mistreated by some nuns.

But he argued that Mr McKee's evidence was unreliable and riddled with inconsistencies.

Ruling on the action on Friday, Mr Justice Horner found that the regime at Nazareth Lodge was "Spartan and harsh".

He said: "Love and tenderness were in short supply. The plaintiff was treated with a cold and callous indifference."

The judge added that corporal punishment was the accepted norm for any breach of the rules, with boys expected to play outside in all weathers.

"Bedwetting was punished by physical chastisement and humiliation," he said.

"However there were some opportunities for football, swimming, dancing and the cinema."

Under court rules, personal injury actions normally have to be mounted within three years of either the incident or knowledge.

Mr McKee was held to have had the necessary knowledge when he reached the age of 21.

Because of the "very substantial delay" of more than 40 years from that point he was statute barred, the judge decided.

Had the claim not been prohibited on the delay point, Mr Justice Horner said there was sufficient evidence to support claims that the corporal punishment of children went beyond what was reasonable and controlled - even by the standards of 1958.

With the possibility of a future appeal, he also set out his verdict on the level of damages to which Mr McKee would have been entitled.

The judge rejected claims that the stay in Nazareth Lodge was the cause of long-term psychological or psychiatric problems that have subsequently blighted his life.

But setting the award at £6,500 had the case not been statute barred, he said the plaintiff was entitled to compensation for the emotional distress suffered as a consequence of fearing what would happen to him if he wet his bed.