A secure unit near Helensburgh for children in care was a “hellhole” plagued by frequent violence, the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry has been told.

A woman who was housed at the Cardross Park Assessment Centre in the 1990s described how children’s shoes were removed so they could not run away from the institution.

She also told of her distress at being the only girl on the unit when she was sent there by a children’s panel at the age of 12, with all the others housed there being teenage boys.

The secure centre, which is now closed, is one of the three residential children’s institutions being examined by the current chapter of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, chaired by Lady Smith.

The woman appeared at the inquiry in Edinburgh on Wednesday under the pseudonym, Lucy.

David Sheldon KC, senior counsel to the inquiry, suggested her young life had been “extremely difficult” – to which she agreed.

Lucy said she had experienced abuse from a family member and, when she was 12, a children’s panel decided to send her to Cardross, a place she had “no idea” about.

Her written statement described the institution, which had a school as well as secure residential accommodation, as a “hellhole”.

Speaking to Mr Sheldon, she said: “It looked nice from the outside but I remember going in and my shoes were taken away and I wasn’t allowed to leave.”

She said this was “barbaric” and added: “I have no idea how that was ever allowed to happen”.

Lucy told the inquiry of one incident at Cardross in which she was assaulted by staff who held her down while punching and kicking her.

“I remember screaming and asking them to let me up and they didn’t let me up,” she told the inquiry.

Lucy, who now works in the education sector, said she had attempted to escape from Cardross but had never been successful.

She continued: “I think I was the only girl [on the unit], with the rest being boys at that stage, which wasn’t appropriate.”

As well as having shoes removed, children were made to change into pyjamas after the school day, she said.

Many children at Cardross suffered trauma and the centre was “really, really awful”, she continued.

“I would watch other kids being dragged away, people fighting – it was very scary,” she said.

Lucy said her own experience in the sector made her realise how inappropriate the practices at Cardross were.

Another witness appeared at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry under the pseudonym, Daniel.

He said had been sent to Cardross at an earlier period, describing staff using slaps to discipline children there.

He recalled one room at the facility was called “the cooler”, a bare and windowless room where boys were sent if they caused trouble.

Staff members would also drag children by their hair, he said.

Daniel told the inquiry: “Not one of the staff in there showed kindness.”

The Cardross centre was demolished after its closure and the site, west of Cardross Golf Club, is now occupied by flats.

Lady Smith’s inquiry is currently in its eighth phase, examining abuse of children who were in residential accommodation for young offenders and children in care.