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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

2.6 Cornwall County Council

1. Cornwall County Council (CCC) was a local authority which was abolished in 2009. It is now a unitary council, Cornwall Council. Speaking to the records of CCC was Jack Cordery, the service director for children and family services for Cornwall Council.[1] Among local authorities CCC played a particularly active role in child migration, and so merited separate consideration by us.

2.6.1 What was CCC’s role in child migration?

2. CCC migrated between 33 and 58[2] children to Australia from 1940-1972, a higher figure than the average number of children migrated by other councils.[3] We heard that CCC migrated children where they felt that they were “mentally and physically fit for life in a farm school, and… [they] showed a real interest in country life”.[4]

3. CCC’s involvement in child migration was promoted by Dorothy Watkins. She had been employed by Fairbridge for a number of years in Australia and to Canada, and was then appointed CCC’s Children’s Officer under the Children Act 1948.[5] All of the children CCC migrated (and in respect of whom evidence is available) were sent to Fairbridge schools in Australia.[6]

4. During Part 1 we heard testimony from three individuals who had been migrated by CCC and who alleged sexual abuse either before they were migrated or once they arrived overseas.[7]

2.6.2 What did CCC know about alleged sexual abuse of its child migrants?

5. The Inquiry was not presented with evidence that CCC had actual knowledge of any allegations or evidence of sexual abuse of child migrants during the period of the child migration programmes.

6. However, Ms Watkins was a childcare professional and frequently reported on issues related to juvenile delinquency, child prostitution and the child victims of sexual offences.[8] In light of that, we agree with Professors Lynch and Constantine that she was likely to have had an awareness of sexual abuse issues[9] and to have had those in mind during her visits to Fairbridge in Australia. However, her reports and summaries of other reports appeared to be consistently positive, when the reports of others were much more critical and more closely aligned with the experiences described by the former child migrants.

Generally children were exposed to a risk of sexual abuse, which ought to have been been appreciated by CCC.

Given that Ms Watkins was very positive about Fairbridge’s ethos and values, we suspect that, as Professors Constantine and Lynch suggested, her “eyes were averted from some of the less positive aspects of the life of those children in Australia”.[10]

Had she been more open-minded, she may well have been more attuned to any indications of sexual abuse in the children; and generally had CCC operated a more rigorous supervision regime it may have become aware of further allegations or evidence of sexual abuse.

It might also have known more about the risk of sexual abuse more generally.

A robust system of monitoring was more likely to have reduced the risks to the children, by triggering interventions to protect children from sexual abuse, and other harm.

2.6.3 Did CCC take sufficient care to protect its child migrants from sexual abuse?

Selection

7. We understand that CCC selected children for migration according to whether they were mentally and physically fit for life in a farm school. However, there are doubts as to whether the Home Office’s consent was obtained in relation to all children migrated.[11] 

Supervision/aftercare

8. As set out above, Ms Watkins did visit the Fairbridge schools personally and reviewed written reports about the children, but appears to have done so from a skewed perspective.

In light of all this evidence, CCC did not take sufficient care to protect child migrants from the risk of sexual abuse.

2.6.4 What has CCC, and more recently Cornwall Council, done in the post-migration period?

9. In around 1996, CCC received an allegation from two brothers that they had been sexually abused at Trenovissick Home Cornwall in the 1950s. Although these two individuals were not themselves child migrants, child migrants stayed at Trenovissick prior to migration.[12] CCC co-operated with the police investigation from 1996-1998[13] (albeit that no charges followed).

Overall we consider that CCC’s response to these more recent allegations was adequate.   

10. CCC has not been involved in any previous inquiries, participated in any other schemes designed to give redress to former child migrants, or paid any compensation to former child migrants[14] In September 2010, CCC’s Councillor Neil Burden gave an apology to former child migrants. This apology was to former child migrants who may have been mistreated and especially those who may have been subjected to sexual abuse, and which was repeated in oral testimony before us by Mr Cordery. In the course of that apology, CCC made clear that it would provide counselling and support to former child migrants should they request it. Mr Cordery informed us that this counselling often takes the form of providing former child migrants with sufficient information about their history and family to allow them to “understand what had happened”.[15] CCC has not been approached by any former child migrant seeking compensation for sexual abuse.

CCC has broadly adopted a positive approach to the provision of support and reparations to former child migrants who have suffered sexual abuse, but could have taken a more proactive approach to the payment of individual compensation.

References

Footnotes

  1. Cordery 14 July 2017 145/15-19.
  2. CCC’s evidence was that they migrated 33 children but a further 25 had been identified as suitable for migration and it was not clear how many if any of those had also been migrated (Cordery 14 July 2017, 145/13-22; 148/1). If they had all been migrated that would amount to 58 children. Professors Lynch and Constantine stated that the documentary evidence suggests that CC migrated 47 children from 1950-1970 (Constantine 11 July 2017 159/4-10).
  3. Constantine 11 July 2017 160/4-12.
  4. Cordery 14 July 2017 147/8-12.
  5. Constantine 11 July 2017 160/18-22; 161/7-15; 162/12-23; 164/23-165/5.
  6. Cordery 14 July 2017 148/1-4.
  7. Peter Bagshaw (28 February 2017 82-95); CM-A14 (28 February 2017 95-131); and CM-A12 (2 March 2017 56-68).
  8. Cordery 14 July 2017 154/1-22.
  9. Cordery 14 July 2017 155/9-12.
  10. Cordery 14 July 2017 153/11-13.
  11. Cordery 14 July 2017 147/8-12.
  12. Cordery 14 July 2017 156/1-9.
  13. Cordery 14 July 2017 156/15-19.
  14. Cordery 14 July 2017 157/1-11; 156/15-19.
  15. Cordery 14 July 2017 158/1-22; 161/1-4
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