CHILDREN were tortured at Scottish schools, children’s homes and residential units with waterboarding, sleep-deprivation and force-feeding among the practices deployed to torment them, a major study into alleged abuse has claimed.

The report from the National Confidential Forum (NCF), a body set up to anonymously document the experiences of abuse victims, also records testimony alleging the humiliation of children for bed-wetting and others having their hair shaved off to suppress their identity.

Costing more than £4 million since it was established in 2014, the forum has faced accusations of being a "talking shop" because it lacked powers to hold abusers to account.

Stephen Naysmith: Confronting a shameful legacy from our recent past

The subsequent Scottish Child Abuse inquiry may have appealed to more victims because it could ultimately lead to prosecutions.

While it was initially thought up to 2000 abuse survivors might give evidence to the NCF, so far only 78 statements have been lodged.

Head of the forum, Dr Rachel Happer, said a culture of silence and intimidation had prevented many of the perpetrators of abuse from facing justice.

She said: “Many of the accounts we have heard have been heart-breaking and akin to extreme treatment that nobody should be on the receiving end of, never mind children and never mind a child who is meant to be cared for and protected.

Stephen Naysmith: Confronting a shameful legacy from our recent past

“People have used their own words to describe the experiences and some have certainly described what happened to them as torture.”

The oldest record of abuse detailed in the report called 'What We Have Heard So Far' took place eight decades ago, and the most recent just five years ago.

The alleged abuse took place in state-run care homes, residential schools and secure units for adolescents.

While a small number of the 78 people who have so far made disclosures to the Forum relayed positive experiences about the care they received, the majority - 59 people - described a range of dehumanising and cruel physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Many who raised the alarm about abuse as children said they were rarely believed, and more likely to be punished or transferred.

The abuser's version of events was often accepted as the more credible account.

Stephen Naysmith: Confronting a shameful legacy from our recent past

But the report reveals harrowing details from children who had been rehoused to protect them from abuse or neglect.

One account described how a staff member at a residential care unit would torture them.

It read: “She’d fill a bath with cold water and throw you in it, with the towel wrapped around your head, which I think is called water-boarding…and then pour buckets of water over your head."

Another described the place they were accommodated as a "systematic torture chamber".

"[It was]…a systematic abuse…a way of life all the time, morning and night,” they said.

Stephen Naysmith: Confronting a shameful legacy from our recent past

Dr Rachel Happer said some had never before spoken about their experiences,and urged more survivors to come forward.

She said: “For some people, talking to the forum is the first time they have been heard and sharing their experience broke a long-held silence."

While the NCF exists to record the experiences of people who grew up in care, it is working closely with the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and urges those who wish to take their evidence further to contact the inquiry or with Police Scotland.

Alan Draper, spokesman for In Care Abuse Survivors Scotland, said the details revealed in the report were no surprise, and reflected the experiences of many of the group's members.

He said victims deserved to be compensated for the abuse they suffered.

And he added: "This [report] raises questions about how we repair the damage that has been caused to so many people by an uncaring establishment.

"One of the ways should certainly be some form of monetary acknowledgement of what they went through."

Stephen Naysmith: Confronting a shameful legacy from our recent past

A spokesman from NSPCC Scotland said: “The accounts of abuse published in this report are extremely shocking and it’s vital that any victims of abuse get justice, no matter how much time has passed since crimes against them were committed. We need to ensure that people who have been abused as children feel confident to come forward, safe in the knowledge that their voices heard and they will receive help and support.”

Meanwhile, the former Old Bailey prosecutor Brian Altman QC has been named as the new lead counsel for the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse taking place in London.

Mr Altman, who has specialised in serious crime and terrorism cases, replaces Ben Emmerson QC, who resigned last September amid disputes over the scale of the investigation.