Survivors of a notorious British child migrant scheme want answers from the Prince of Wales and his charity after learning their wait for compensation has been delayed by another two years.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown said the scheme, which saw 130,000 children from largely impoverished backgrounds sent to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Zimbabwe, was “government-induced (human) trafficking”.
A group overseen by the Prince’s Trust is still due to pay compensation to survivors in Australia, despite a deadline passing on Monday.
In 2012 the Prince’s Trust absorbed the charity Fairbridge, responsible for a farm school in rural New South Wales (NSW), Australia, where more than 200 survivors won compensation in 2015.
After major inquiries in the UK and Australia into child abuse in institutions, the Charles-founded charity set up a separate company called Fairbridge Restored in 2020.
As soon as it was created, Fairbridge Restored was put it into administration and tasked with dealing with compensation pay-outs for survivors of the farm schools, which continued to operate despite being blacklisted by the Home Office in 1956.
Fairbridge Restored’s administration period had been due to expire on Monday, but with no compensation paid out to survivors it has now been extended for a further 24 months – infuriating survivors, many of whom are elderly and in ill health.
David Hill, a former child migrant who has written two books about Fairbridge Farm Schools, expressed anger over both the delay and the fact news of it had come via the PA news agency rather than administrators or the Prince’s Trust themselves, despite repeated attempts for progress updates.
“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,” Mr Hill said.
He accused the charity of being more concerned with distancing itself from Fairbridge and its “sullied reputation” than justice for survivors.
Earlier in 2022, Mr Hill had written to Charles – who founded the Prince’s Trust and has been its president for the past 40 years – imploring him to assist in bringing about a resolution to the pay-out saga due to the “variable health” of the surviving Fairbridge children.
“(They) are ageing and dying at an increasing rate. If delayed long enough there will be no victims left to pay redress,” the letter read.
Mr Hill received no response from the Prince of Wales or Clarence House.
Mr Hill, the former managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, told PA: “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, (and who) have got no idea what this is about – have got to spend the money.”
In 2015, more than 200 survivors of the Molong farm school in rural NSW to which Mr Hill and around a thousand other British child migrants were sent received a record pay-out of 24 million Australian dollars (£13.6 million) from the state government.
The farm school had been blacklisted by the UK Home Office in 1956 after a fact-finding mission found the Fairbridge institutions were “unfit for children” but continued to receive British child migrants for the next two decades.
The class action launched by survivors after the publication of Mr Hill’s book The Forgotten Children found that more than 60% of children at the school had been sexually abused.
Then 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. Its final report said: “Fairbridge UK denied responsibility and was at best wilfully blind to the evidence of sexual abuse contained within its own archives.”
Around the same time, the Australian government published its final report from its own Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
On the long list of offending institutions was Fairbridge UK – which, by then, had been absorbed by the Prince’s Trust and had its name dissolved.
The Prince’s Trust agreed to pay into a National Redress Scheme. However, a year on from it establishing Fairbridge Restored for this purpose, it missed the June 2021 deadline and the Australian government had to step in on behalf of Prince’s Trust and Fairbridge Restored to pay redress to victims.
Mr Hill had earlier warned the Prince’s Trust it was a mistake to set up an insolvent company for paying compensation to the National Redress Scheme for victims of institutionalised abuse.
“(Prince’s Trust) have been dragging this out since 2018 (which is when) they said they’d do this (pay redress to Fairbridge survivors). So it’s now four years,” he said.
“About half the Fairbridge kids that were alive four years ago are now dead. I’m pretty unimpressed with them.”
In a statement to PA, Australia’s Department of Social Services (DSS) confirmed the federal government had stepped in to pay redress on Fairbridge Restored’s behalf after it declined to join the scheme on July 1 2020 following the expiry of a 30 June 2020 deadline.
DSS further added that it would continue to act as a funder of last resort for redress scheme applicants who attended the now-defunct Fairbridge farm schools.
The amount paid out to survivors in lieu of Fairbridge Restored so far by the Australian government is protected information so could not be released, DSS said.
PA’s repeated requests for comment from the Prince’s Trust have been met with the direction to contact the administrators of Fairbridge Restored.
The charity also denied that it was the “parent company” of Fairbridge Restored.
Fairbridge Restored’s administrators confirmed in a statement they had “made an application to the UK court and an order was granted to extend the administration process for a further 24 months, to 5 September 2024”.