Smyllum Park nun who abused vulnerable children has prison sentence cut after appeal

Photo shows former nun Sarah McDermott outside Airdrie Sheriff Court. She was convicted of abusing youngsters at Smyllum Park in Lanark. Pressteam Scotland Ltd.
-Credit: (Image: Pressteam)

An elderly nun who was jailed for abusing vulnerable youngsters at an orphanage has succeeded in a legal bid to cut her prison sentence.

Sister Sarah McDermott, 79, was given a three year term for mistreating children at Smyllum Park in Lanark from 1969 until 1981 when it closed.

She was sentenced following a trial at Airdrie Sheriff Court earlier this year. Her co-accused Sister Eileen Igoe, 79, and carer Margaret Hughes were also given three years behind bars.

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The orphanage where the trio worked has been at the centre of allegations of historic abuse.

A number of former residents told Airdrie Sheriff Court they had been mistreated at Smyllum during a six-week long trial earlier this year.

One woman said she was beaten by McDermott, of London, after she reported witnessing her brother being sexually abused in a toilet in the orphanage.

She said volunteer worker Brian Dailey, who was later jailed for 15 years for abusing youngsters, molested the three-year-old in a cubicle.

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But rather than investigate the abuse, McDermott slapped the girl and told her she was bringing her 'filthy home habits into a good Catholic place'.

McDermott also struck another girl with rosary beads and repeatedly struck her on the head and body.

Lawyers for both Igoe and Hughes succeeded in their bids to have their clients’s sentences reduced at the Court of Criminal Appeal earlier this year.

They told appeal judges Lord Beckett and Lord Matthews that Sheriff Scott Pattison did not give enough attention to how the pair had spent decades as model citizens.

They also told the Court of Criminal Appeal that their clients had health problems and that Sheriff Pattison should have considered this when deciding what jail term to impose.

The lawyers argued that the terms given to the two accused should have been shorter in length. The judges upheld the submissions and reduced the terms.

Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark
Smyllum Park Orphanage in Lanark -Credit:Cascade News

Today (Thursday, July 11) defence solicitor advocate Iain Paterson told appeal judges Lady Dorrian, Lord Matthews and Lord Doherty that Sister McDermott’s sentence should also be cut for the same reasons.

The judges agreed and reduced Sister McDermott’s terms to seven months.

In a written judgement issued by the court for the Igoe and Hughes’s cases, Lord Matthews said the sheriff who sentenced the pair hadn’t properly considered their backgrounds.

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He wrote: “We are satisfied that the sheriff attached insufficient weight to the age and state of health of the appellants and the length of time which has passed, during which they have led useful and pro-social lives.

“They present no future risk to the public so that the important sentencing purpose of public protection does not arise.

“The very fact of conviction of such elderly people well over four decades past the commission of their crimes is punitive, serves to mark the community’s disapproval of it and can be taken to have some generally deterrent effect.

“In all the circumstances, relevant sentencing aims could have been met by sentences of a different nature.

“In respect of each appellant, had we been passing sentence at first instance we would have imposed probation with unpaid work.

“However, the appellants have been in custody since January 18 2024 and we are satisfied that it is appropriate in each case simply to quash the sentence imposed in the court below and in their place substitute a sentence of imprisonment for seven months, to run from that same date.”

During sentencing, Sheriff Pattison there was no alternative to prison for the three women.

He said: "I am satisfied that the focus of my sentences should be punishment and deterrence, to punish you for the crimes committed and to deter all who have care of young children from similar conduct now and in the future.

"As I said to you when you were found guilty, you failed in your duty of care to the children in Smyllum and fell far short of your moral calling and commitment."

The judge said the "lasting harm" and "the serious nature" of the offences meant only custodial sentences were appropriate.

He added that the sentences were shorter than they otherwise would have been on account of the women's ages and health.

Igoe, of Edinburgh, was convicted of abuse which included force feeding children and making one eat their own vomit as well as striking one boy on the head and body.

Hughes, of Lanark, seized one boy by the hair before striking him with her arm. She also forced a girl into a freezing bath and held her head under water.

"On Thursday, Lady Dorrian said that the circumstances surrounding McDermott's’ conviction were similar to her co-accused.”

She said: “She was of good character and there was a lack of previous offending.

“We shall quash the sentence of three years and impose a sentence of seven months.”