Survivors of farm schools where British children suffered physical and sexual abuse are imploring the King to intervene after they were told his charity, the Prince’s Trust, had “insufficient monies” to adequately pay compensation.
The Prince’s Trust became liable for the Fairbridge Society in 2012 when it absorbed the charity which for 70 years had sent tens of thousands of British children to farm orphanages in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the former Rhodesia, where they suffered cruelty, mistreatment and sexual abuse.
The Fairbridge Farm School scheme was one of the largest UK organisations to export working class children to its former colonies from the early 1900s to 1980 in a bid to convert a “burden and a menace” to society into “assets” for the Empire.
Subsequent child sexual abuse inquiries in both the UK and Australia found the British Government and the Fairbridge Society were aware of abuse at farm schools in Australia as early as the 1930s.
In 2018, then-UK prime minister Gordon Brown condemned the child migrant scheme as “government-induced trafficking” that was a “bigger sex scandal” than the crimes of Jimmy Savile.
In light of these damning findings against Fairbridge, the Prince’s Trust pledged to pay compensation to survivors of the farm schools in 2018. It established a company called Fairbridge Restored and immediately put it into receivership – giving joint administrators Chris Laverty and Alistair Wardell of Grant Thornton UK LLP the task of paying compensation.
In November 2022, the High Court of Justice determined a reasonable amount to each claimant was £204,000 (380,000 Australian dollars).
Administrators have now told survivors they will only receive about 1% of that figure – which would work out about £1,000-£2,000 each.
In a letter sent to 277 claimants in May that has been seen by the PA news agency, Fairbridge Restored’s joint administrators said they had been provided with “insufficient monies to pay all admitted claims in full”.
“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,” administrators said.
“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).”
David Hill, a former child migrant who was sent to the Molong school in New South Wales as a 12-year-old in 1959, called the Prince’s Trust conduct “offensive, hurtful and distressing”.
Mr Hill implored the King to intervene and “correct the injustice” against survivors who have “borne the trauma and scarring from their experiences throughout the whole of their lives”.
In a letter to Charles, Mr Hill said: “This is outrageous and grossly unfair and an insult to the victims. It is very distressing for all those former Fairbridge children who have struggled through life with a legacy of childhood abuse.
“Many of them have never been able to live anything approaching normal lives as a result of their experiences at Fairbridge institutions.”
After leaving the farm school at the age of 15, Mr Hill went on to become chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and write two books about the Fairbridge Farm Schools.
The first of these books, The Forgotten Children, spurred survivors of the Molong orphanage to launch a class action against the state and federal governments and the school which had received around 1,000 children between 1938 and 1974.
It found more than 60% of the more than 200 claimants had suffered sexual abuse at the farm and in 2015 they received a record compensation payout of 24 million Australian dollars (£13.6 million).
Robert Stephens, a survivor of the Molong farm school and one of the claimants to compensation from the Prince’s Trust, was eight when he was sent to Australia from Dorset. For nine years he suffered physical and sexual abuse by a number of perpetrators.
In 2007, he alleged one of the people who abused him as a boy was celebrated British military commander Sir William Slim, the 13th governor general of Australia.
Now 80, Mr Stephens said many Fairbridge claimants were confused by the letter sent to them by administrators which did not make clear they would now only be receiving a “pittance” of the 370,000 Australian dollars (£200,000) they were first promised.
“A lot of claimants couldn’t understand what was going on. They thought they were getting a huge amount of money and for most people it’ll probably be 1,000 or 2,000 dollars,” he said.
“They’re probably going to get a cent to the dollar. That’s about all… it’s a bit of a farce, to be honest with you. You’ve got to question what the Prince’s Trust were actually up to.”
Mr Stephens was the first alleged victim of Sir William’s to speak publicly and it prompted another two former “Fairbridge kids” to come forward to say they had also been molested by the war hero in the back of his black viceregal Rolls-Royce as children.
For the elderly survivors of the farm schools, Mr Stephens said the saga of compensation from the Prince’s Trust was an “insult”.
“After years and years of not only being at Fairbridge, but then the suffering that a lot of Fairbridge kids have had to go through economically, it’s a pittance, an absolute pittance for what a lot of them would have been through in their lives,” he said.
The farm school Mr Stephens and Mr Hill were both sent to had been blacklisted by the UK Home Office in 1956 after a fact-finding mission found the Fairbridge institutions were “unfit for children” but they continued to receive British child migrants for the next two decades.
In 2020, the charity was “named and shamed” by Australia’s then-prime minister Scott Morrison for failing to join the national redress scheme established in response to the country’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
In September, Fairbridge survivors learned their wait for compensation from the Prince’s Trust had been delayed by another two years after Fairbridge Restored again extended its administration deadline.
Mr Hill had accused the charity of being more concerned with distancing itself from Fairbridge and its “sullied reputation” than justice for survivors.
“I just think it’s appalling, absolutely appalling. I mean, it’s cruel. People are dying, people are dying and (the Prince’s Trust) promised that they would expedite this and they haven’t. Justice is being denied still,” he told PA at the time.
“It’s been appallingly managed by the Prince’s Trust. They should be ashamed of themselves.
“Prince’s Trust established Fairbridge Restored, gave it the money then put it into administration, which means they’ve done a Pontius Pilate and washed their hands of it. And the administrators – who are lawyers, have got no idea what this is about – have got to spend the money.”
In 2018, Britain’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) found both the UK Government and Fairbridge were aware of abuse at farm schools in Australia as early as the 1930s.
The inquiry subsequently found: “Fairbridge UK denied responsibility and was at best wilfully blind to the evidence of sexual abuse contained within its own archives.”
In late 2022, in the IICSA’s final report, child migration was called a “deeply flawed policy that caused lifelong damage to many” – for which the UK Government was found to be “primarily to blame”.
“The children lived in many settings characterised by physical and emotional abuse and neglect, as well as sexual abuse,” the report stated.
“The treatment of many of these children was akin to torture and had lifelong consequences.
“When they tried to report their experiences, the children were disbelieved and intimidated, often with violence.”
The Australian government also listed Fairbridge UK as an offending institution in the final report from its Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
As the organisation liable for Fairbridge UK after absorbing it in 2012, the Prince’s Trust agreed to pay into a National Redress Scheme.
A year on from establishing Fairbridge Restored for this purpose, it missed the June 2021 deadline.
Fairbridge Restored’s joint administrators from Grant Thornton UK LLP said they did not have an official statement but directed PA to progress reports and other public information on the Fairbridge Restored website.
The Prince’s Trust and Buckingham Palace did not respond to requests for comment.