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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child Migration Programmes Investigation Report

1.2 What did HMG know about sexual abuse of child migrants and what did it do about it?

6. In its evidence and closing statements before us, HMG has accepted that there were a number of occasions during the migration period when it had knowledge of allegations or evidence of sexual abuse of child migrants.

(i) Canada

7. As we explain further in Part C, section 2.2, in July 1943, Mr Rogers (a Duties Master at the British Columbia (BC) Fairbridge school) was dismissed after he was convicted of “immoral relations” with Fairbridge boys and imprisoned.

8. Furthermore, in 1944, Isobel Harvey, Superintendent of Child Welfare for BC, reported a range of concerns including that another Duties Master, CM-F217, was known for “fooling with girls” at the school.

9. HMG files from the National Archives show that the Dominions Office was aware of the nature of the issue with Mr Rogers, and of the concerns about the Duties Master expressed by Ms Harvey. They also show that HMG knew that the BC Provincial government had, in the summer of 1944, expressed criticism of the then Principal of the School for his lack of previous experience in childcare welfare work, his errors in selection of staff, a “[t]endency overduly to shield or excuse delinquencies”, for “arranging or not reporting three alleged cases of removal of pregnancy” and for “[a] failure to take immediate and thorough action when reports have been made of suspected major moral delinquency”; and that the view of the Joint Committee was that “much greater care should be exercised in the future by those in control of the School to prevent sexual delinquency”.[1] 

10. Our reading of the documents suggests that:

a. in November 1944, it was proposed that HMG write to the Fairbridge Society to support the idea of a personal visit by Mr Green (Fairbridge UK) to Canada and the replacement of the Principal of the School;[2] and 

b. in November 1946, the High Commissioner visited the School, noting that a new Principal was now in place, and that in his view the previous complaints were now “groundless”.[3]

11. Looked at in isolation, it could be said that HMG was seeking to respond to the concerns about sexual abuse issues that had emerged in Canada in an appropriate way by encouraging Fairbridge UK to visit, by ensuring that there was a change of Principal and by conducting a subsequent inspection itself. However, in our view it is flawed and unrealistic to take such an approach: the evidence shows us that the sexual abuse issues were part of a much broader range of serious concerns about the treatment of child migrants that the child welfare professionals in Canada were raising. It is also important to note that these concerns were coming to HMG’s attention at exactly the same time as the similar issues from Australia that we refer to below, and yet HMG appear not to have connected the two issues.

(ii) Australia: Molong (1940)

12. We have seen some evidence that the UK High Commissioner in Australia became aware of the resignation of Mr Beauchamp from the Molong school, and urged the Fairbridge Society in London to accept his resignation.[4] However, it is not clear whether the High Commissioner knew the details of the allegations relating to sexual matters against Mr Beauchamp (see further in section 2.2 below).

(iii) Australia: Northcote and Pinjarra (1943/1944)

13. In May 1943, William Garnett (UK High Commissioner in Australia), visited the Northcote school in response to a “disturbing” letter from a cottage mother. He prepared a detailed report which he sent to the Dominions Office on 4 June 1943 noting a range of concerns, including that:

a. there had been “trouble between the girls and the schoolmasters” (at the adjoining school);[5]

b. this had led to a prosecution of the teachers for sexual offences, and the Education Department dismissing them;

c. it had also led to the girls asking for Colonel Heath’s resignation as Northcote Principal;

d. one of the girls had reported a “similar experience” before leaving England; and

e. no Child Welfare Department (CWD) officer had visited Northcote (because these officials did not consider that they had a legal power to do so unless a child was in the care of the state).

14. Although the local Education Department had reportedly indicated that it did not think that what had happened was “any reflection upon the internal management of the Farm School” and that “this kind of thing though fortunately rare might happen anywhere”, Mr Garnett concluded that something had gone “radically wrong” at Northcote. He considered that there had been too much reliance on Colonel Heath, who had failed to live up to his positive reputation, that there had been insufficient supervision by the Northcote Trustees and that the local body lacked appropriate experience. He also expressed concern that similar issues may have arisen at Pinjarra given that Colonel Heath had previously been Principal there.[6] 

15. In February 1944, a “dossier” of complaints and concerns about the care at and management of Pinjarra was prepared by Gordon Green (Secretary of the Fairbridge Society in London). This was based on correspondence received from past and present members of staff.[7] The dossier was provided to the UK High Commission and the Dominions Office. Although we have not been provided with a copy of the dossier, we note that it was later described as:

a. containing “clear evidence of how children have suffered and the name of Fairbridge has lost prestige since the facts have made their mark in many quarters”;

b. demonstrating that Fairbridge in Western Australia “does not accept in practice the principles of the proper care, education and placing of children entrusted to it”; and

c. showing that the Pinjarra school had “concealed adverse facts, that many boys are in reformatories, and that every possible difficulty has been encountered there” (emphasis in original).

It also noted that a former staff member, Miss Hart, had resigned, noting that there was “substantiated evidence of ill-will, bad management and serious injustice”.[8]

16. In May 1944, Mr Garnett accompanied Mr Wheeler (the Australian Commonwealth government’s Chief Migration Officer) on an inspection of the Northcote school. Their visit raised a further suggestion of inappropriate sexual relations between girls at the school and visiting Old Fairbridge boys. They concluded that “the supervision and character training in the past have left much to be desired”, and suggested that the school should be closed and the children transferred to the Fairbridge school at Molong.[9]

17. At around this time the UK High Commission also received extracts from a report undertaken for the Australian Commonwealth government by Caroline Kelly. Ms Kelly concluded that:

a. “all charges referred to in the dossier are within the knowledge of the Commonwealth Government”;

b. responsible government officers, members of churches and previous staff members concurred that a “grave state of affairs existed”;

c. knowledge of what was happening had been concealed for fear that the scheme might be damaged and financial backing suffer;

d. the Secretary and local Fairbridge Committee were evasive and the latter ignorant of its responsibilities;

e. Fairbridge in Australia preferred “common” women as staff;

f. the acting Principal did not have the necessary qualifications; and

g. “disturbing stories” should be investigated by someone directly representing the governments that contribute.

18. Overall, Ms Kelly was of the view that no further children should be sent to Pinjarra until there was an overhaul of the administration. She also expressed concern about an apparent laxity in the operation of the Pinjarra hostel for returning Fairbridge boys and girls, the culture of sexual behaviour there, and the fact that when Fairbridge girls under 16 became pregnant they were expelled.[10]

19. In June 1944, Mr Wheeler sent a telegram to the Dominions Office referring to the “deplorable incidents” at Northcote, which “have left marks it will take time to eradicate”. He noted that “Numerous changes in staff have not helped” and that the “proportion of unsatisfactory cases is unduly high, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that faulty supervision and training must be held to a large extent responsible”. He referred to what he considered to be “serious defects” in the Fairbridge scheme. He also quoted extracts from Ms Kelly’s report including her recommendation that no further children be admitted to Pinjarra until an overhaul of the present administration had been made. He noted that Barnardos’ personally visited each child twice a year. He concluded that “each school ought to be inspected at least once a year on behalf of each Government”.[11]

20. In July 1944, a note of a meeting between representatives of the UK High Commission in Australia and representatives of the UK Dominions Office records that “[Mr Wheeler] felt that both the Commonwealth and the UK Governments must be held to be in some way responsible for not realising how things had been going wrong at Northcote and he thought also at Pinjarra and he felt that it was their duty to be kept informed on the subject”. The note again recorded Mr Wheeler’s view that each school ought to be inspected once a year on behalf of each government.

21. In a memorandum dated 5 September 1944, it was noted that Sir Ronald Cross (by then UK High Commissioner in Australia) considered the proposal for periodic inspections a “good one” (albeit that they should “not be too formal”). Moreover, he had apparently said that “[h]e did not seem to think there would be much difficulty in arranging an official from his Department to go round the schools, but he did point out that it would be essential that we should visit all the schools..including Barnardo’s”.[12]

22. For the reasons we have set out in section B.3 above, we regard the need for regular inspection of the schools as something that was expected during the time of the migration programmes. Annual inspections were being suggested here as part of a response to the sexual abuse issues that had arisen at Northcote, and the suggestion of serious issues at Pinjarra (albeit that these were not specified to relate to sexual abuse).

23. Although we have seen subsequent minutes suggesting that the UK Dominions Office considered the possibility of putting in place a regular scheme of inspections at institutions in Australia, there is no evidence that any such scheme was, in fact, implemented and child migration continued.

24. In October 1944, Mr Garnett prepared a detailed report on several of the farm schools in which child migrants were placed. This did not refer to any sexual abuse issues explicitly but given his knowledge of events at Northcote, Mr Garnett’s reference to “undesirable incidents” was on balance likely in our view to have referred to the sexual abuse issues mentioned above.[13] As far as the Fairbridge schools were concerned he made several proposals which we consider further in section 2.2 below.

25. Finally, in respect of knowledge of alleged sexual abuse in these two schools, in January 1949 a memorandum was submitted to the Home Office by Mr Dallas Paterson (a former Principal of Pinjarra), in which he was extremely critical of the migration schemes and stressed the need for the sending organisations to retain a sense of responsibility for the child migrants. In an appendix to the memorandum, Mr Paterson referred to a Western Australia Committee member whose “philandering conduct towards girls in his wife’s employ” was notorious. He also noted “by far the most serious case” of a 14 year old girl who had been subjected to the “most seriously immoral” behaviour, over a long time, by the son-in-law of the Western Australia Committee Chairman. He said that the son-in-law was given no warning about his conduct and that the Principal had continued to send further children to a place of employment “where one young child has been outraged time and again, by a cynical scoundrel”. In another appendix, Mr Paterson noted that in 1936, Sir Charles Hambro (Chairman of Fairbridge UK) had been warned that: “if the Australian taxpayer…were to learn of such scandals…he would close down the whole scheme”.[14]

26. In response to Mr Paterson’s allegations, a Home Office official, Mr Lyon, appears to have noted that although the “criticisms of the scheme are… violent” he considered that “in view of what I believe are the subsequent discussions, no further action is required on this file”.[15] It is right to note that Mr Paterson was apparently making allegations of sexual abuse relating to Pinjarra many years after the event (he had been Principal of Pinjarra from 1936 to 1937, and so over a decade before his memorandum). The lapse of time between the alleged events and the memorandum may have had an impact on HMG’s response. However, the decision not to take any action is harder to accept when one considers the broader concerns about Pinjarra that had arisen in the interim, as set out above; and in any event there is no evidence that the “discussions” being referred to by Mr Lyon related specifically to Mr Paterson’s allegations, rather than to the Fairbridge scheme in general.

(iv) Australia: Picton and Normanhurst (1958)

27. In 1958, concerns were raised that 23 boys mainly aged between 18 and 21 were potential victims of “serious sexual malpractices” by several individuals related to the Barnardo’s school at Picton.[16] It is clear that information about these issues was circulated among members of the HMG,[17] and HMG accepted in its closing statement that this included members of the UK High Commission in Australia, the Home Office and the CRO.[18] Most notably, we have seen an exchange of letters in July 1958, in which the CRO and the UK High Commission in Australia discuss the alleged sexual abuse at Picton; and it is clear that the CRO was aware that there had been some guilty pleas by the alleged perpetrators.[19] It is also evident that the matter became known to at least one Member of Parliament (Nigel Fisher) who referred in correspondence to Fairbridge UK of a “really rather bad case of sodomy between a teacher and boys at one of the Barnardo’s Schools in Australia”.[20] 

28. Following these reports of sexual abuse, Barnardo’s child migration programme was suspended by Barnardo’s itself,[21] by the Australian Commonwealth Minister for Immigration, Mr AR Downer,[22] and by the CRO.[23] Professor Lynch noted that the CRO considered not only imposing a ban in relation to Picton but also the possibility of either withdrawing all maintenance funding for Picton or for every Barnardo’s home accommodating child migrants in Australia. The experts considered that this may have been intended to create a “firewall” around HMG in order to contain the scandal in relation to Picton. 

29. These events appear to have raised questions within HMG about whether there was a risk of similar behaviour in other receiving institutions in Australia: we have seen that, on 25 July 1958, the CRO sent a telegram to the UK High Commission noting that “[i]f there is publicity about Barnardo’s, it may lead to enquiries whether we are satisfied that similar practices do not occur in boys’ institutions of other societies. Please suggest to Immigration Department that they should consider checking position in other institutions for boys”.[24]  

30. We heard from Professors Constantine and Lynch that a conversation took place between the UK High Commission and the Immigration Department in which it was decided that there should not be a national investigation of this kind, particularly because HMG’s view at the time was that no sexual offences had taken place at Picton itself.[25] This may have been an incorrect understanding as we explain further in the following section on Barnardo’s. In any event, no such investigation was conducted. Professor Lynch noted that this was not done even though risk factors including geographical isolation creating difficulties in recruiting staff were present across many of the institutions.[26] He noted that HMG tended to defer to the Australian authorities, allowing the latter to conduct investigations and inspections.[27]

We find that HMG knew about allegations or evidence of sexual abuse of child migrants.

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

Had it operated a more robust process for regulating and monitoring the operation of the schemes, it may have known about further specific allegations of sexual abuse.

However, even when HMG did have knowledge, it failed to respond appropriately given the breadth of other information it was receiving. This was especially so after the Ross report and then the Picton issues. Both should have led to a review of all the institutions accepting child migrants. Such a review did not happen.

We note that HMG, through Mr Davies, has accepted that at key junctures, particularly after publication of the Ross report, the government failed to take steps to prevent children being sent to institutions causing concern.[28] 

HMG’s response to the knowledge it had was inadequate because it ensured that a situation in which children were at risk of sexual abuse was allowed to continue. This was a key failing by HMG.





  1. CMT000496_004-11; PRT000510; CMT000496_001-003.
  2. CMT000499.
  3. CMT000496_012-14.
  4. PRT000276.
  5. The “trouble” was later clarified to have involved one teacher being prosecuted for four counts of having carnal knowledge of 4 girls who were aged 13 and 14 at the time: EWM000372
  6. Constantine 12 July 2017 108-116; CMT000374_001-007.
  7. EWM000438_016.
  8. Constantine 12 July 2017 117-118; PRT000216_049-050; PRT000217_021; EWM000400_001-002, _003-005. Miss Hart also noted that the policy of yielding to the local Committee was “disastrous” for the lives of children at Pinjarra.
  9. EWM000372 (EWM000370_018, footnote 24); EWM000395 (EWM000370_019, footnote 25).
  10. Constantine 12 July 2017 118-120; 134-135; CMT000375_001-068.
  11. Constantine 12 July 2017 115-117; EWM000395; EWM000400_001-002, _003-005. In July-August 1947, it was agreed that Fairbridge would cease to migrate children to Northcote on the basis that the children had to have continuity of personal care and Fairbridge had to be responsible for that: PRT000359_003-004.
  12. EWM000404_035.
  13. Constantine 12 July 2017 121-123; PRT000217_020-030; EWM000438_005 (paragraph 2.5).
  14. CMT000387_007-009.
  15. CMT000387.
  16. BRD000105_001.
  17. Constantine 19 July 2017 101-102.
  18. Department of Health, Closing Statement, para. 19.b.
  19. EWM000283_001; _002-009.
  20. Constantine 21 July 2017 125-127; PRT000597_003.
  21. Lynch 11 July 2017 7/1-4.
  22. Lynch 11 July 2017 7/5-7.
  23. Lynch 11 July 2017 7/9-12.
  24. EWM000283_74.
  25. Lynch 11 July 2017 37/5-21.
  26. Lynch 11 July 2017 38-39.
  27. Lynch 11 July 2017 40/12-15.
  28. DOH000097_002, para. 5.
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