The family of a schoolgirl who died more than 50 years ago while running away from an orphanage have found out she may have been sexually abused.
Patricia Meenan’s siblings will renew their fight for answers over the 12-year-old’s death in 1969 after the new claim emerged in court papers.
Her tragic life is part of a civil case being prepared against the Daughters of Charity, who ran the controversial Smyllum Park orphanage in Lanark between 1864 and 1981.
A former resident is to sue the Catholic religious order over claims she was sexually abused during her five-year stay at the home, including by two priests who have since died.
She is to claim other girls including her older sister and Patricia also faced abuse and told nuns about it – but were ignored.
The family of Patricia – known as Patsy at the home – have said they’ve faced a wall of silence over her death.
She was fatally injured after being hit by a car while running away from the Lanarkshire orphanage.
Her sister Razia Khan, 57, who lives in Glasgow, said: “We have been told there has been no records for years – even as to why she was taken into care.
“While her death was 50 years ago, for our family we have never stopped wanting answers.
“If it has emerged she made complaints of such a serious nature, surely they were recorded?
“Daughters of Charity need to tell us what they have recorded about Patricia.”
Sister Liz Meehan, 55, said: “The death of Patricia destroyed my mum.
“She died just a few years later of a broken heart and she never got over her death.
“We have never got any satisfactory answers over what and why Patricia died.
“We fear we’ll never know what happened to her on that day – or what she was running from.”
The former resident taking the civil case, who’s identity is protected by a court anonymity order, said: “I’m speaking out because the family deserve to know what happened to Patsy.
“With my brother and sister, we stayed with four other families in a self-contained ‘house’ within Smyllum.
“In 1968 Patsy was brought in to our house and she was very quiet. It was very unusual for someone to be without their brothers or sisters and it took a while for her to speak to anyone.”
The ex-resident said Patsy later confided in her sister about her abuse.
Both went on to tell the Mother Superior who ran the home about the abuse, she said.
She continued: “It was no use. We would just be belted for telling made-up tales.”
She said she was part of a group of children who regularly ran away from Smyllum.
She once escaped from the hated home with Patricia before they were stopped by police.
She added: “We used to run away all the time. One day Patricia asked if she could come along with my brother, my sister and me.
“Patricia had complained of being abused – as we all had.
“I believe she was sexually abused and told the Mother Superior about it. We used to escape through a gap in the gate.
“I was six or seven, my sister was around 12 and my brother around 10.
“I remember looking around Woolworths in Lanark before we were stopped by police.
They said, ‘Are you from Smyllum?’ We couldn’t deny it because of the way we looked.
“We were wearing pinafores with shortly cropped hair and red plastic sandals on – we stood out like a sore thumb.
“The police took us back and we got a beating. One of the nuns said, ‘You are making out that things are happening in this house when they aren’t.’”
Patricia was tragically hit by a car almost a year later.
The ex-resident added: “Not all the nuns and priests were bad. It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with what happened – I am still fighting a daily battle.
“We were told not to talk about it. That’s stayed with me. I was made to feel I’m beneath everyone – and that feeling’s stayed with me all my life.
“I first went to the police in the 1990s and then tried to sue the Daughters of Charity in the early 2000s but couldn’t because of restrictions over how historic the claim was. That’s been lifted now and I want justice.”
The ex-resident is to meet with the surviving members of Patricia’s family to discuss her life in Smyllum.
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In 2018 the Scottish Child Abuse heard evidence from former residents at Smyllum. It also heard how Patricia had died while running away.
Her family said they had previously been told by the nuns who ran the home that the incident was the first time Patricia had tried to flee.
Patricia, who had lived at the home for nearly two years before the tragedy, is believed to be the last fatality of a child in care at Smyllum.
She was struck by a car on the A73 and taken to Law Hospital but died on October 10, 1969, from head injuries.
Like a lot of children in Smyllum, Patricia wasn’t an orphan but had been taken into care due to concerns over her home life.
Her fireman dad Robert Lawson Meenan died in a car crash in 1959. Her mum Elizabeth was plagued by poor health after contracting TB and died in 1973.
Her brother Jim, who now lives near Cambridge, said: “I am not shocked by these revelations. It’s always been my suspicion that Patricia must have gone through a lot during her brief young life. It leaves me very angry.”
Her sister Teresa, a 59-year-old charity worker who lives in London, said: “I still find all the circumstances surrounding my sister’s death suspicious. You can tie yourself in knots trying to find out what happened.
“There were no real records about the circumstances of her death – and that’s always been a red flag for me.”
In 2018 it was revealed the Daughters of Charity had buried up to 400 children who had died at Smyllum in unmarked graves.
Patricia wasn’t one of them and was buried in a family plot in Glasgow.
A spokesman for the Daughters of Charity, based in London, said it could not comment on the ongoing legal action.