UK Government accused of knowingly sending children to 'crook' institutions in Australia

By Barbara Miller
ABC News
November 27, 2016

Fairbridge Farm School in NSW central west deemed unfit to receive more migrant children.

David Hill, who in 1959 aged 12 was sent to Fairbridge Farm School in New South Wales.

[with video]

The UK Government continued to send child migrants to Australian institutions despite knowing they were being mistreated, according to allegations in a submission lodged to the UK inquiry into institutional child sexual abuse.

David Hill, who in 1959, aged 12, was sent to Fairbridge Farm School in New South Wales, said "the British government knew that these institutions were crook and unfit for children".

Mr Hill said as a result of a 1956 British parliamentary fact-finding mission to Australia, a list was drawn up of homes that were deemed unfit to receive more migrant children.

The list of "Category A" homes encompassed institutions in all six states and included the Fairbridge Farm School at Molong.

A UK Home Office memo stated that the 10 institutions "would need a complete metamorphosis" to get them into a state where they would be deemed to pass muster.

Mr Hill said the list was never acted upon for reasons of political expediency, a situation he said meant hundreds more children were placed in institutions where it is now accepted there was frequent physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

"Had they stuck to the blacklist and stuck to the suspension of child migrants coming to Australia, a lot of those children would not have experienced the terrible things they did experience," Mr Hill said.

British children were sent to places such as the Fairbridge Farm School as part of a post-war resettlement program that came with the promise of a better life.

Inquiry could prompt more legal action against UK Government

Former child migrants have already successfully brought a class action against Australian authorities over the abuse suffered at Fairbridge.

Mr Hill said legal action against the UK government following the airing of the allegations against them at the UK inquiry was likely.

"My guess is that as a result of this British inquiry you will see former British child migrants take action against the British Government, and good on them," he said.

The UK inquiry has been mired in controversy since it was established in 2014, but is due to hold the first inquiry seminar in London later this week, with full public hearings slated for next year.

The first two chairwomen, Baroness Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf, were forced to stand down after they were accused of being too close to the establishment.

The third, New Zealand judge Justice Lowell Goddard, resigned in August amid bitter allegations of mismanagement.

On Thursday the chairwoman of the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee said it was "shameful" that Justice Goddard had refused to give evidence about her reasons for leaving.

Several senior lawyers have also stood down.

One has since strenuously denied allegations aired by the BBC that he had to leave because of a sexual assault claim against him.

For years Rita Iagoe was silent about her past

Watching developments anxiously is Rita Iagoe, who emigrated from the UK to Australia almost 30 years ago, when she was in her 20s.

Ms Iagoe said she was abused for a period of 12 years in a convent home in south England, where she was placed with her four siblings when her mother could no longer cope.

"From the age of four, the physical abuse was constant, that was daily," she said.

Ms Iagoe, now a qualified psychotherapist, said witnessing the abuse of other children was just as damaging.

"Children were force-fed, and if they vomited they were made to eat their vomit and if they didn't eat their vomit that was served the next day for breakfast," she said.

The sexual abuse came later, meted out by a former priest brought into the home as a lay worker.

Ms Iagoe said the man plied teenage girls with wine before committing his crimes, moving from one victim to the next opportunistically.

"It was rich pickings, I suppose, for paedophiles in those days," she said.

Coming to Australia, she said, was a chance to "re-invent" herself.

For years she remained silent about her background.

These days she can talk about it and wants her story heard at the UK abuse inquiry.

When chairwoman number three, Justice Goddard, came to Australia last year to meet survivors and learn from the experiences of the royal commission, Ms Iagoe was asked to go and meet her.

She said telling her story in that forum was "healing".

However, she is now uncertain about what has happened to her testimony because of the inquiry's faltering progress and highly publicised troubles.

"Really I'm in limbo. I don't know what is going to happen," she said.

'They come with a shadow'

Alan Collins, a London lawyer specialising in cases of sexual abuse, has a number of clients in Australia who allege they were abused in the UK before emigrating.

"If there is such a thing as a typical client, it is someone who has escaped the UK and come to Australia," he said.

"Except they haven't really escaped their past, but they come with a shadow."

He said survivors in this category often think "it's just me with my story" and assume the inquiry would not want to hear from them.

Mr Collins said it was important these people came forward as they "are the experts" and only by listening to their stories can society learn from its mistakes and better protect children today and in the future.


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