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Revealed: how a leading charity let a paedophile rent a home amid Scotland's most vulnerable children

Investigation by Neil Mackay, Sunday Herald, 10/11/02

Context: Quarriers was established in 1871 by William Quarrier, a Glasgow philanthropist who had suffered a deprived childhood. It has cared for more than 30,000 children since the first orphan home was set up at Bridge of Weir - where the Quarriers Village now has 1000 members of staff and a turnover of £19 million. Quarriers is Scotland's leading charity for children, disadvantaged young people and adults with disabilities.

SCOTLAND'S most renowned children's charity is mired in a paedophile scandal that could well destroy it. Quarriers, which provides residential care for the most profoundly disabled children in the country, has admitted that it has knowingly allowed paedophiles and suspected child-molesters to live alongside children it is supposed to care for - and that one man accused of such offences is still there.

Phil Robinson, Quarriers chief executive, is facing calls from politicians to resign immediately for putting children at risk. Parents of disabled children who attend Quarriers, and the victims of paedophiles who worked there, say it is impossible for the charity to carry on.

Quarriers headquarters, near Bridge of Weir in Renfrewshire, is effectively a self-contained community, referred to by staff as Quarriers Village. It is a network of brick cottages used to provide residential care for disabled children. Around 70 children a year stay there. However, among this warren of buildings are a few cottages that were once used as part of the children's home but have now been either leased or sold by Quarriers to members of the public.

One man who was rented a home inside this "village for children" was John Porteous. He was jailed for eight years last Thursday for the sexual abuse of two boys. Phil Robinson knew Porteous was under investigation but still allowed him to live in one of the Quarriers buildings - right beside disabled children. Robinson did not tell any of the parents whose children use the village that Porteous was under investigation.

Another man, who the Sunday Herald has not named for legal reasons, is also allowed to live inside Quarriers Village despite appearing in court in June accused of 13 sexual offences against children. Robinson has known since June that the man is under investigation, but has not told parents about the allegations or that the man remains in the village today. Both Porteous and the other man were former "housefathers" at Quarriers in the 1960s and 1970s. In those days, the cottages now used for respite care for disabled children were run as individual homes where husband-and-wife teams, known as housefathers and housemothers, looked after abandoned or orphaned children. Sometimes cottages were home to up to 14 children.

Both Porteous and the other man were brought up in Quarriers themselves. Porteous's wife, Helen, who also was a "Quarriers child", sat alongside her husband in the dock facing charges of cruelty against children. The charges were withdrawn and she was found not guilty.

Porteous - who is also closely related to another former member of Quarriers staff under investigation by police in relation to paedophile crimes - was an officer in the spired church that sits in the middle of Quarriers Village and a Boys' Brigade leader. Police officers investigating the case dubbed him "the beast of the belltower" as he abused children in the belltower of the church. Porteous was also a member of the region's children's panel, which deals with abused children and children who have committed crimes, until he was charged in March this year.

The children that Porteous abused were in his care when he was a house­father. The two boys he was convicted of abusing were eight and 12 when the sexual assaults started. He abused them between 1969 and 1977. The jury at Glasgow High Court found him not guilty of two other charges of abusing a third boy and a young girl.

The Sunday Herald began investigating the activities of paedophiles at Quarriers following the conviction in September 2001 of Samuel McBrearty on charges of raping and assaulting three children while working at Quarriers 30 years ago. The Sunday Herald has previously interviewed 63-year-old Elizabeth McWilliams, who told how a "housemother" called Frances Bowman beat her, forced her into freezing baths and made her eat rotting food and pigswill. McWilliams also told of being raped by a man who worked at Quarriers. Following her revelations, Phil Robinson and other senior staff at Quarriers Village invited the Sunday Herald to attend a meeting at which they would be "100% honest" over sexual abuse that had taken place at the home.

After the interview, a Sunday Herald reporter and photographer were allowed to walk around the village, and were taken on a tour of Quarriers church by a church officer - John Porteous. When asked what he thought of the sex abuse scandal engulfing Quarriers, Porteous said: "I think it's all down to bad children. They must have lied or enticed those men."

Nothing was then known publicly about Porteous's crimes. Robinson, however, was aware that Porteous was under investigation, but chose not to reveal to the Sunday Herald that Porteous was facing paedophile charges. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP's shadow health and community care minister, said Robinson and the rest of the Quarriers board should resign immediately. "Their actions are an unforgivable and serious dereliction of duty and there should be an immediate and thorough investigation. Their first duty is supposed to be to care for children, but their conduct in covering up what has been happening is a disgrace.

"We need transparency when the safety of children is concerned. It is terribly disturbing to think of u paedophile so close to such vulnerable children. If such people were allowed to get to the heart of a community like this, Quarriers must have realised that it was a position open to abuse." She added that allowing people to live without police checks in a community for vulnerable children was "tailor-made to be exploited by paedophiles".

"After years spent tightening rules over who can and can't work with kids, we now have a new route for paedophiles to get close to children without coming under scrutiny. All the evidence suggests that Quarriers allowed this situation to happen. They haven't learned the lessons of the past and the positions of those in charge are no longer tenable."

After working as a housefather, Porteous became health and safety officer at Quarriers and stayed in the post until he retired four years ago.

Colin Adams, a spokesman for Quarriers, dismissed allegations that the care home had betrayed the trust of parents, saying: "What about betraying the trust of a man who had, until Thursday, not been convicted?"

Detective Inspector Ross Mackay of Greenock police, who is leading the investigation into abuse at Quarriers, said the inquiry was still ongoing. He said a number of investigations were still open and had not yet led to charges. Other cases have been reported to the procurator fiscal and some men have been charged and are awaiting trial.

"These are very serious crimes," he said. "It's been a horrendous case. I'd appeal to anyone with information to come forward and speak to me."

Victims of Porteous and those who were abused by other men at Quarriers have also called for Robinson to resign, saying the charity's reputation has been ruined. One former Quarriers resident, who was abused at the home as a child, said it had "endangered children by harbouring and sheltering a paedophile".

In a lengthy interview with the Sunday Herald, Phil Robinson said he had offered his resignation to board chairman Robin Wilson, saying he would quit his post if it turned out he had placed children at risk. Wilson said he was currently backing Robinson. Robinson added: "I became aware of the allegations against Porteous in 1999. If he'd still been employed with us we would have suspended him immediately, but he was retired. We notified staff to ensure that he had no access to children and they satisfied us that he hadn't. He was - and remains - a tenant of ours. His wife still lives in the house in the village."

Robinson said: "If we had evicted him we would have been acting illegally," but admitted he had not taken legal advice. He also admitted that not informing parents that Porteous had been charged with child sex offences was "controversial", but added: "I don't agree that parents should have been informed on the basis of suspicions alone. We didn't want to hamper police investigations and we also had a duty not to disregard the presumption that someone is innocent until proven guilty."

Although Porteous lived in a flat above a cottage used as the corporate services department at Quarriers Village, Robinson insisted that there was no way he could have gained access to any children. He claimed it was "unfair" to accuse him of putting children at risk or of breaching the trust of parents. "To put all the good work that we do under threat because of unnecessary alarm about the risk to children would be a terrible tragedy for the children we strive to care for," he said. "We can't control our tenants or police the village. There is no evidence to suggest that anyone has moved to this village because it is attractive for paedophiles."

Quarriers has now hired a social worker to counsel former residents who were abused. All staff hired after 1995 have been checked by police. However, some 32 hired before then are still unchecked. Robinson said he was happy to meet with parents to discuss any fears.

Over calls for the board to resign, he said: "I'm the chief executive and the buck stops with me. If it is felt that there has been any negligence then I will resign. I don't believe there has been negligence and my chairman supports me."

Greenock Police Incident Room Quarriers Hotline: 01475 492514/516

 
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