March 2021

Pensioner who forced kids to eat dog food during seven year abuse campaign jailed

An OAP has been jailed for a horrifying campaign of abuse which saw children beaten and burned, and forced to eat dog food.

Frances Forsyth abused six children over a seven year period – in one case burning a young girl by holding her hand against an electric fire.

Forsyth, 80, also neglected the youngsters, leaving them dirty and starving and forcing them to scavenge dog food from a dog bowl when she left the room

The OAP admitted carrying out offences of neglect and assault when the children stayed at her home on occasions between 1973 and 1980.

Her sentencing has been deferred several times after she admitted the crimes at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in March last year.

Forsyth had to be brought to the capital court yesterday 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 said: “[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, Edinburgh in 1975.

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

The court heard Forsyth 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.

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

Forsyth pleaded guilty to four charges of wilfully ill-treating, abandoning and neglecting and assaulting six children at an address in Edinburgh between September 21, 1973 and December 31, 1980.