‘Grossly unfair’: Child sex abuse survivors offered 1 per cent of original settlement amount

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London: Survivors of a notorious British child migrant scheme have been offered just 1 per cent of the hundreds of thousands dollars in compensation promised to them for abuse suffered decades ago.

The revised offer has promoted a call for King Charles III to step in and explain why his charity has short-changed claimants with an offer of only one cent in every dollar of the admitted claim.

Children dining at Fairbridge Farm in Molong.

A group overseen by the UK-based Prince’s Trust made its drastically revised down offer last week to former Fairbridge children in Australia. Those children were sexually abused after they were removed from poor working-class families or care homes last century and sent to various Commonwealth nations to farm schools.

In an email sent to survivors sent to five Fairbridge Society Institutions in Australia, the largest of which were in Molong, NSW and Pinjarra, Western Australia, administrators for the redress scheme said they only could offer a maximum of about $3820 because “insufficient moneys” had been set aside for the claims by the Prince’s Trust.

The UK high court last year determined $382,000 was a reasonable value to assign each survivor of sexual abuse at the Fairbridge farm schools – estimated at 340 – who were still alive after March 2020, or their families.

David Hill, the former chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who was sent from Britain to a Molong farm school at 12-year-old in the 1950s, said the offer was “outrageous and grossly unfair” and “very distressing” for the former Fairbridge children who have struggled through life with a legacy of abuse. He accused the trust of being more concerned with distancing itself from Fairbridge and its “sullied reputation” than justice for survivors.

The former Fairbridge Farm School Chapel, in Pinjarra, Western Australia.Credit: Visit Peel

The then-Prince Charles established the Prince’s Trust in 1976, which in 2012 absorbed Fairbridge, a UK-focused charity whose previous iteration ran the farm schools to “enhance the Empire’s white stock” and as an attempt to address problems of child poverty.

The trust formally apologised in 2018 for the “hurt and suffering experienced by victims and survivors” of the Fairbridge schemes. In 2020, the trust announced it would provide funds to pay compensation to those abused, along with other institutions, including the Australian and British governments. The trust then reinstated Fairbridge Restored Ltd, placed it into insolvency and tasked administrators to deal with compensation pay-outs.

Hill, who estimates that around a quarter of eligible victims have died since 2018, implored the King to intervene to correct what he called an “injustice” perpetrated by the trust for the offer in a letter sent on behalf of survivors group the Old Fairbridgians Association last week.

“The body which bears the initial responsibility for the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of hundreds of Fairbridge farm children, some as young as five years of age, intends to pay each survivor an amount of up to approximately $3,820 (£2,400) or, in many cases, less than that,” he wrote in correspondence seen by this masthead.

“I cannot begin to tell you how offensive, hurtful and distressing this is to all Old Fairbridgians, all of whom are now elderly and nearly all of whom have borne the trauma and scarring from their experiences throughout the whole of their lives.”

“Many of them have never been able to live anything approaching normal lives as a result of their experiences at Fairbridge institutions.”

In the letter to survivors on May 10, Grant Thornton confirmed that the assigned value damages of about $382,000 to those claiming “physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse” while under the care of Fairbridge to those who had received no other compensation.

Where a claimant had already received a payment, that amount would be deducted from the $382,000 figure.

But just six days later it said the amount paid would be “a small proportion of each admitted claim”.

“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,” the letter said, highlighting it would be “in the order of around 1 per cent”.

A class action was launched by survivors after the publication of Hill’s book, The Forgotten Children, found that more than 60 per cent of children at the school had been sexually abused.

In 2018, Britain’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse 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.”

Former chairman of the ABC David Hill in 2007.Credit: Peter Morris

Around the same time, the Australian government published its final report from its own Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Prince’s Trust agreed to pay into a National Redress Scheme, but has missed multiple deadlines to pay redress to victims.

Buckingham Palace did not respond to request to comment while the Prince’s Trust said in a statement: “As conversations between the Trust and the administrators of Fairbridge (Restored) Limited concluded some time ago, I can confirm that any questions you have should be directed to the administrator.”

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