Two more preliminary hearings have considered administrative matters relating to the Roman Catholic Church and the Children Overseas investigations. Comments made within these make it clear that the Inquiry diary for 2017 is in reality already full. A summary of the key information to date is as follows:
Roman Catholic Church
The Inquiry is focusing on four themes:
1) the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the church generally;
2) the adequacy of the church’s policies and practices re safeguarding;
3) whether the culture of the church had/does inhibit the proper investigation and prevention of child sexual abuse;
4) the adequacy of previous reviews and the Nolan Review and Cumberlege Commission and examining how their recommendations were put in to practice.
There are two case studies, the Archdiocese of Birmingham and the English Benedictine congregation, which includes Ampleforth and St Benedict’s, Ealing. It is anticipated these will provide insight into wider failures. Of note, although the Inquiry is focused on abuse in England and Wales, because Benedictine priests moved between England, Wales and Scotland including to the school at Fort Augustus, Scotland it is to be included in the investigation.
74 applications for core participant status have been received, 63 granted, 11 refused. Those who wish to apply for an award of legal expenses are required to do so by 8 September 2016. A timetable has been given for other administrative matters and a further preliminary hearing is likely to be in the late part of next year.
In November 2015 the Inquiry announced they would investigate the extent to which organisations in England and Wales have satisfied their duty to protect children abroad. The Inquiry has divided this broad topic into a number of case studies, the first of which concerns the sexual abuse of children who were subject to compulsory child migration programmes. This case study considers for the first time whether government departments, public authorities, private or charitable institutions based in England and Wales took sufficient care to protect child migrants from sexual abuse and whether after their abuse came to light, former child migrants have been offered adequate support and reparations.
Child Migration programmes achieved a degree of public prominence in the UK in 2010 when Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a formal apology to child migrants, however there remains little public awareness of the full extent of these programmes, of how they were conducted, their effects upon the child migrants and particularly the allegations of child sexual abuse. These were large-scale schemes in which thousands of children were systematically and permanently migrated to remote parts of the British Empire by various institutions in England and Wales with the knowledge and approval of the British Government. It is estimated about 150,000 British children were sent abroad as part of these programmes, most of them to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and what is now modern-day Zimbabwe. Several thousand children were sent to Australia between 1947-1967, with the last children thought to have been sent from Cornwall to Australia as late as 1970.
The rationale for the programmes shifted over time, British and colonial governments regarded the programmes as carrying the perceived benefits of reducing the cost to the state of maintaining destitute children, while meeting the labour shortages in colonies and populating the commonwealth. Children, who were orphans or from deprived family backgrounds, who were resident in care homes or under the care of the state were simply to be plucked for selection for migration. Available records suggest children as young as two years old were transported under these programmes. Many children were taken without the consent of their parents or legal guardians and some were wrongly told they were orphans.
In receiving countries most children were placed with families, institutions or in farm schools where they provided labour and domestic services. Many child migrants were subject to extremely harsh conditions, hard labour and physical abuse by those responsible for their welfare, but there are allegations of widespread and systematic sexual abuse taking place in some institutions to which the children were sent. The House of Commons Select Committee on Health in 1998 found that the sexual abuse of child migrants in some institutions in Australia was widespread, systematic and as per the report “exceptionally depraved”.
Some former child migrants have alleged they were subjected to sexual abuse prior to their migration in homes and other institutions in England and Wales. These are allegations that the Inquiry will consider in the course of examining the extent to which institutions involved in child migration programmes may have failed to take seriously their responsibilities towards the children. In Australia there is an investigation into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, however to date no public inquiry in the UK has undertaken specific analysis of allegations of sexual abuse of child migrants and possible failings by institutions based in England and Wales.
There is an added urgency to this case study because of the advancing age and ill-health of many of the former child migrants, a large number whom have expressed a desire to assist the Inquiry. Five organisations and one individual have been granted core participant status.
The Inquiry’s legal team have sent letters to 17 institutions which hold records relating to child migration programmes, formally requesting the provision of materials which contain information relevant to the case study. Nine institutions have already provided important material to the Inquiry, which is being reviewed and analysed. The bulk of the material received to date relates to the period 1945-1970. The remaining institutions are expected to begin providing documents in the coming weeks.
The Inquiry intends to hold two public hearings relating to this case study:
- February 2017 hearing – this is expected to last for two weeks and will hear from expert and factual witnesses concerning the historical and context of child migration as well as hearing from a small number of preselected former child migrants who alleged they have suffered sexual abuse in relation to their migration in a range of institutions and contexts. The live evidence is intended to give the Inquiry a sense of the experiences of former child migrants and the nature of the allegations that have been made by complainants, victims and survivors.
- Second hearing (date to be announced at the February hearing) – this hearing will be an opportunity for institutions, formerly involved in the selection and sending of child migrants, to make statements (if they wish) setting out their observations and positions and provide any relevant testimony.
The hearings constitute only part of this case study – evidence gathering and analysis will continue before and after the hearings. It is anticipated the bulk of material before the Inquiry will be in the form of written statements rather than live evidence heard in hearings.
Written by Paula Jefferson, Partner