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Hundreds of orphans buried in mass grave, newspaper investigation reveals

A Sunday newspaper revealed more than 400 orphans were buried in a mass grave after an investigation jointly run with the BBC.

The Dundee-based Sunday Post named 402 children who died at Smyllum Park Orphanage, in Lanark, after sifting through thousands of documents to find their identities.

The Post’s investigation began in March when reporter Gordon Blackstock met Frank Docherty, a former resident of Smyllum Park and renowned child abuse campaigner who sadly did not live long enough to see the resulting story published.

Mr Docherty showed Gordon the unmarked graves where nuns from the Daughters of Charity, which ran the orphanage, buried children who had died in their care.

Sunday Post orphans

Gordon told HTFP: “He’d told me he’d long suspected there were more Smyllum Park kids buried there than the figure he’d been told by the Daughters of Charity at the start of the 2000s. The paperwork they’d passed on was limited and only showed around 120 kids buried there. But he reckoned it was just the tip of the iceberg.

“He said it had been like hitting his head off a brick wall to get the answers and there were some families who incredibly could not be told where their loved ones were buried. I found that astonishing. I thought it we could get some of the answers with a bit of perseverance.”

Gordon contacted Ben Robinson, a former colleague now working at the BBC with whom the Post had been trying to identify some investigations on which they could work collaboratively.

The pair were assisted by a BBC researcher to read through 15,000 documents, dating from between 1864 and 1981, after the Daughters of Charity refused to provide their own records.

The Post listed the 402 names it successfully identified in Sunday’s edition.

Gordon said: “Have we identified all the kids who died at Smyllum Park? My fear is there are more. Sadly, Frank Docherty passed away before we could give him the answers he was looking for – he died at the end of April.

“His final words to me were in an email he sent where he said he hoped we’d get the answers he was looking for but warned we’d find it hard and be blocked by the Daughters of Charity. That turned out to be pretty prophetic.

“We’ve had a lot of readers getting in touch – some touched by it, others affected by it. Newspapers from around the world have picked up the story, which is always nice to see.

“It’s easy to dismiss what went on at Smyllum Park as historic but for many people alive today the alleged abuse they suffered continues to have an impact today.”