'A lengthy catalogue of disturbing ill-treatment' - Sheriff blasts cruel woman who left starving and beaten Edinburgh kids scavenging food from dog's bowl

A callous pensioner who carried out a seven-year campaign of abuse against six children - including forcing them to eat dog food - has been jailed.

Monday, 8th March 2021, 3:18 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 2:00 pm

Frances Forsyth abused the children by handing out regular beatings where they were punched, slapped and kicked and on one occasion she burned a young girl by holding her hand against an electric fire.

The 80-year-old also neglected the youngsters where they were left dirty and starving and forced to scavenge from a dog bowl when she left the room.

Forsyth admitted four charges of neglect and assault when the children stayed at her home between 1973 and 1980 when she appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in March last year.

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'Frail' but in jail: A sheriff ignored pleas not to imprison cruel Forsyth

Sentence had been deferred due to the current pandemic and her health conditions and Forsyth was brought to court in an ambulance.

Sheriff Michael O’Grady QC told the frail great-grandmother she had carried out “very grave” and “deeply disturbing” assaults on the children and jailed her for 16 months.

He told Forsyth: “[The offences] show a lengthy catalogue of disturbing ill-treatment, neglect, indifference and assault against very young and very vulnerable children.

“Under any view they amount to a gross breach of trust.”

Previously the court heard the details of the abuse suffered by the children at the hands of Forsyth and her then-husband Brian McKernan.

Prosecutor Nicole Lavelle said Forsyth was in her 30s at the time and she and McKernan moved into a one-bedroomed flat in Fountainbridge in 1975.

The pair occasionally looked after six children at the house and dished out “routine beatings” to the youngsters between 1973 and1980

The court heard Forsyth, of Calder, Edinburgh, would encourage her husband to beat the children while she also carried out sadistic assaults on them after they failed to carry out household chores.

The children were neglected by Forsyth during their stays at her home and were described as being “starving, poorly clothed and not provided for”.

The children were said to have been regularly left “dirty, unwashed and smelling badly” and were only “afforded scraps of leftovers” at meal times.

Ms Lavelle said “the children would often eat mouldy food off the floor” and resorted to stealing dog biscuits from a cupboard they were so hungry.

The fiscal added Forsyth gave fresh food to her four dogs and the starving children would on occasions be forced to raid the animal’s bowls when she left the room.

Forsyth also admitted to punching and kicking a number of the children to the head and body and on one occasion she held a child’s hand “against an electric fire”.

The court also heard Forsyth’s husband Brian McKernan appeared at the High Court in Livingston in 2019 where judge Lord Tyre found sexual offences against him involving the same children to be proved.

McKernan was deemed to be unfit for trial due to suffering from cancer and though he was placed on the sex offenders register in November 2019 he died three weeks later.

John Keenan, defending, said his client had “accepted full responsibility” for her offending despite the social work report claiming otherwise.

The brief added Forsyth would be “extremely vulnerable” if she was imprisoned and she had not committed any further offending in the past 40 years.

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