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horror history Magdalene Laundry survivor has little faith in police after they quizzed the 'wrong nun' about abuse

Caroline Magee survived harsh life of Magdalene Laundry but fears no one will ever be prosecuted

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Caroline Magee

Caroline Magee

Caroline Magee

Magdalene Laundry survivor Caroline Magee has little faith in any police probe into the mother and baby home scandal.

And the Derry mum wants to speak up for the forgotten victims - the children who spent their entire childhoods unloved in the grim institutions.

"There were boys and girls there who were never adopted, who never had a mummy and daddy, who never had a good education," says Caroline.

"Those boys were born in the mother and baby homes and stayed there until they turned 18 and got thrown out on the street like rubbish, and they have lived with that rejection all their lives."

A report from the Truth Recovery Design Panel was published on Tuesday following an investigation by Queen's and Ulster University, released in February.

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Truth Recovery Design Panel of Dr Maeve O'Rourke, Deirdre Mahon (Chair) and Professor Phil Scraton outside Stormont. Photo: PA

Truth Recovery Design Panel of Dr Maeve O'Rourke, Deirdre Mahon (Chair) and Professor Phil Scraton outside Stormont. Photo: PA

Truth Recovery Design Panel of Dr Maeve O'Rourke, Deirdre Mahon (Chair) and Professor Phil Scraton outside Stormont. Photo: PA

The academic research looked at 14 institutions run by Catholic orders, the Church of Ireland and the Salvation Army between 1922 and 1990, and the treatment of the 10,500 women who were forced to give up their babies.

More than 3,000 were sent to Magdalene Laundries, businesses run by the Catholic Church with free labour from the vulnerable women.

The panel of experts recommended this week there should be a public inquiry, immediate redress for victims, maximum access to their records and unqualified apologies from all the organisations involved.

The PSNI said dedicated officers were ready to work with the survivors, but Caroline is doubtful that any charges will ever be brought.

She toiled for four years in the laundry and kitchen of St Mary's Home in Derry, run by the Good Shepherd nuns, from the age of 11 after being placed there because of family difficulties, and was one of 60 people who gave evidence to the initial probe.

Caroline had also testified at the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry about life in St Joseph's Home in Derry, known as Termonbacca and run by the Sisters of Nazareth. She was placed there at the age of five.

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She says PSNI officers investigated her experience of physical abuse at Termonbacca but spoke to the wrong nun.

"They made a cock-up. They came back and told me the nun didn't remember me. I asked them had they dug her up to question her because she'd died in the 1980s. They'd questioned the wrong nun," says Caroline.

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Caroline Magee was 11-years-old when she was sent to the Good Shepherd Home and Laundry on Dungiven Road

Caroline Magee was 11-years-old when she was sent to the Good Shepherd Home and Laundry on Dungiven Road

Caroline Magee was 11-years-old when she was sent to the Good Shepherd Home and Laundry on Dungiven Road

Decades on from the closure of the institutions, she says many of the sisters and social workers have died or will simply say they don't remember.

"In Termonbacca me and my two sisters were only the second girls to go in there, because it was all boys.

"The nun who was questioned about us being there said 'I don't remember.' How could she forget us when we were the only girls there?

"It's so easy to say you don't remember, it's an easy way out, and the majority of the women who went into the Magdalene Laundry are dead and gone. There is no hope of criminal prosecutions."

Caroline first spoke out over a decade ago as part of the Survivors North West Group, started by Jon McCourt.

The 58-year-old says many of the group's members are of a similar age or older, and the cruelty of their upbringing coupled with the shame imposed on them blighted their lives. Many have struggled with drugs or alcohol addiction.

The ultimate cruelty of the two Derry institutions she experienced was that the mothers, who usually had their names changed, were never told they could leave the laundry, and the boys were never told their mums were just a few miles away.

"The priest or their parents put the girls in there to have their babies, and no one ever came back to get them.

"No one told them their rights, that they could go, and they were controlled and kept there."

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Caroline Magee when at the Good Shepherd Home and Laundry on Dungiven Road.

Caroline Magee when at the Good Shepherd Home and Laundry on Dungiven Road.

Caroline Magee when at the Good Shepherd Home and Laundry on Dungiven Road.

Caroline remembers working in the laundry at the age of 11 in the early seventies and says it was grim.

"If you go back to the forties and fifties when it was all done by hand it was hard work.

"In the seventies they had all the big machines, which made the work easier, but it didn't make their lives any better.

"To me they looked old, but they weren't old. The institution and the work aged them.

"The ones that I knew went there as young girls and spent their whole lives there. They never got out again."

She has welcomed the recommendations in the expert panel's report but urged the public not to forget the children who have already been forgotten.

"The children who were adopted had families. What about the kids who were left behind?

"I'm doing this for the women who are lying in their graves and the children who were left in those institutions, who feel because they never had an education they can't use their voice."

Caroline, a mother of three, also counts herself lucky that she now has a family of her own.

But she had to fight to keep her baby after getting pregnant at 17, when she was put under pressure by a social worker to give up her child. Her daughter is now 41.

"I was asked to go to a mother and baby home in Belfast and give my baby away and walk away.

"When my grandchildren come into my house now and say, 'hello granny' and kiss me and say they love me, that's like winning the lotto," says Caroline.

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