A FORMER foster carer who subjected her foster children to "Dickensian" abuse has been convicted of seven offences of assault and ill-treatment.

Ruth Johnston, 61, beat and bullied the children she was expected to care for. She subjected the youngsters, including one as young as two, to assaults, neglect and other degrading treatment.

She looked after children on behalf of the authorities in the 1990s at her home in Paisley, the town's sheriff court heard.

One victim, now 19 and a mother herself, told the trial how Johnston attacked her and often left her feeling alone, unwanted and guilt-ridden, after she was fostered because her parents were drug addicts.

She said Johnston had hit her several times a day and was a bully. "I was put in a cold shower and, if I wet the bed, she would rub my face in it," the victim told the court. "She'd hit me with her hand, a slipper or a newspaper. I was told it was because I was bad and because my mother was a junkie."

She added that Johnston had washed her in the kitchen sink using Fairy Liquid.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, added: "I got to feel it was normal. She said we were bad and if you were bad, you got punished."

Church-goer Johnston had tried to paint a rosy picture of her home life during her trial, but was convicted of assault and wilful ill-treatment.

Another of her victims said she had been hit repeatedly by Johnston and during the two years she lived with her she ended up feeling "scared, emotional, hurt and confused".

Her treatment left her with emotional problems and feelings of anxiety, she told the court.

Two brothers who were also fostered said they were regularly beaten. One of them said he was put in the back garden and left to sit on the doorstep in the freezing cold.

If they were given any treats such as sweets, crisps or Easter eggs, they were under strict instructions to bring them home and hand them over, he added.

Speaking about cold showers they were forced to take, one of the brothers said the temperature of the water was so intensely cold it made him convulse.

Johnston claimed in court that she was a deeply religious individual who tried to do her best for the children over almost 13 years of fostering.

But, finding her guilty, Sheriff Spy said the picture painted by the four main witnesses "would match a Dickensian description of life for deprived Victorian children".

He added it contrasted starkly with the image presented of her to social workers, friends or those from church circles.

Some of her victims broke down in tears when the verdict was delivered. There were emotional scenes outside the court as they were embraced by friends and relatives who had attended to provide support. Sentencing was deferred for background reports.

A charge against Johnston's husband Gordon, 63, of assaulting children in their care, was found not proven.