15 June 2023

How is the King connected to the farm schools where children suffered abuse?

15 June 2023

The King’s connection to the Fairbridge farm schools where British children suffered physical and sexual abuse is in the spotlight again after administrators for his charity informed survivors they would receive a tiny portion of the compensation pay-out they were promised.

Here, the PA news agency looks at the connection of Charles and his charity, the Prince’s Trust, to the organisation which sent hundreds of thousands of British children to its colonies where they experienced physical and sexual abuse:

What is the King’s connection to Fairbridge?

The Prince’s Trust became legally liable for Fairbridge after it took over the charity and absorbed all of its assets in 2012. Also inherited were what the trust’s chief executive described as “literally millions and millions and millions of documents” held in the archive at Liverpool University which detailed the mistreatment and abuse of children at the Fairbridge farm schools.

In 2013, the trust dissolved Fairbridge as an independent entity, but it continued to have a Fairbridge representative on its board.

At the second London hearing of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) in 2017, the trust’s chief executive Dame Martina Milburn said they had not known about abuse at the farm schools.

Former child migrant David Hill, author of two books about Fairbridge, responded to Dame Martina’s comments by accusing the Prince’s Trust of trying to cover “its backside” by denying knowledge of serious abuse at the Fairbridge institutions when it had been in possession of the files for the past six years.

When and why did the Prince’s Trust pledge to pay compensation to Fairbridge survivors?

When the Australian government completed its own inquiry into child sexual abuse at institutions (the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse), it listed Fairbridge as an offending body that should pay redress to victims.

The Prince’s Trust, as the successor institution to Fairbridge, announced in May 2020 it would provide funds to Fairbridge to pay victims. It then created a separate legal entity called Fairbridge Restored to do so – but put the company into administration and tasked lawyers from Grant Thornton UK LLP with the job of paying compensation.

That compensation has not been paid and Fairbridge Restored/the Prince’s Trust has failed to sign up to Australia’s National Redress Scheme.

How much compensation were survivors told they will get?

In November 2022, the High Court of Justice determined a reasonable amount to each claimant was £204,000 (380,000 Australian dollars).

In May 2023, administrators wrote to 277 claimants to say they will only receive about 1% of that figure – which would work out about £1,000-£2,000 each – due to “insufficient monies”.

The letter said: “For the avoidance of doubt, I would like to highlight that the amount that will be paid will be a small proportion of each admitted claim. This is because there are insufficient monies to pay all admitted claims in full, so every creditor with an admitted claim will receive the same small percentage of their claim.

“Our current estimate is that it may be in the order of around 1%. For illustrative purposes, if the dividend were to be 1% and for example, your admitted claim was 100,000 Australian dollars, you would receive a distribution of 1,000 Australian dollars (paid in British pounds sterling).”

What was Fairbridge?

Fairbridge was the brainchild of Kingsley Fairbridge, a “child of Empire” who as early as the 1900s was advocating sending children from England’s “orphan and waif class” to the colonies to take up land as white settlers.

Between 1912 and 1980, Fairbridge sent around 130,000 British children to farm schools in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). Ten thousand children were sent to Australia alone.

Few of the children were actually orphans and most parents did not understand they were giving up their children forever when they joined the scheme due to financial desperation.

In 1912 the first Fairbridge Farm School opened in Australia – in Pinjarra, 50 miles south of Western Australia’s capital Perth – and many more would follow throughout Britain’s colonies and former colonies. The plan was to turn boys into farmers and girls into farmers’ wives.

By 1934 the plan had the backing of the future King Edward VIII (then the Prince of Wales) who donated £1,000 to Fairbridge, declaring: “This is not charity. It is an imperial investment.”

When and why did the Home Office blacklist the farm schools?

By the 1950s the number of children being signed up to the scheme was declining due to opposition from social workers.

A number of damaging reports also surfaced, the most scathing of which saw Fairbridge’s farm schools in both Molong, 180 miles west of Sydney, and Western Australia backlisted by the Home Office.

The report was suppressed by Fairbridge, which was made to reform in order to keep receiving funding from the British Government – which it did with the One Parent Scheme, which allowed one parent to follow their children to Australia.

For the previous 50 years, Fairbridge went to great lengths to permanently separate British child migrants from their parents in the UK.

Why did Britain export its children?

The idea of the child migrant scheme was to solve the problem of the number of children who were born into poverty in the UK while populating the Empire with “good, white stock”.

The belief among Britain’s ruling classes at the time was that children from poor or broken families needed to be “rescued”.

It was thought taking children away from financially disadvantaged families was the only way to ensure they did not become destitute themselves.

In the 1930s, promotional publicity in newspapers declared children from the lower classes were a “burden and a menace to society that could be converted (in)to valuable assets in Australia”.

How old were the children deported by Britain to its colonies?

Children were as young as four but the typical number was eight or nine.

What percentage of the children were sexually abused?

At Fairbridge Farm School in Molong, more than 60% of survivors were found to have suffered sexual abuse as children.

In 2015, survivors won landmark compensation of 24 million Australian dollars (£12.8 million) in the New South Wales Supreme Court for the abuse they suffered as children by the state and federal governments.

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