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An extract from Anna Magnusson's updated book about Quarriers, 'The Quarriers Story'.

Chapter 15 'Past Wrongs'

Phil Robinson had been in his new post as Chief Executive for only a few weeks when he learned that a former Quarriers employee had been charged with abusing children in his care when he worked a a house-father in the village in the 1960s. Eighteen months later, later in September 2001, Samuel McBrearty was found guilty at the High Court in Glasgow of what the judge, Lord Reed, called "appalling offences against some of the most vulnerable children". He was convicted of repeatedly raping two girls and repeatedly indecently assaulting them and a third girl at Quarriers Homes between 1961 and 1968. The girls were aged ten and twelve when the abuse began.

On the day the verdict was announced Quarriers held a press conference at which it acknowledged the awfulness of the crimes and expressed "heartfelt sympathy" for his victims. The organisation knew that it had to be open and honest as possible, partly because it was the right and proper thing to do but partly, too because, by the time the Samuel McBrearty case came to trial, Quarriers had been informed that there were at least four other complaints against former staff being investigated: Samuel McBrearty was not a one-off case and Quarriers had to face up to the fact that this was just the beginning of a very difficult road.

Samuel McBrearty's trial and conviction (he was subsequently sentenced to twelve years in jail, later reduced to ten), and the news of allegations against other former staff, were a serious blow to Quarriers public profile. Just when the organisation was emerging strongly from the years of financial struggle and professional evolution, here was a crisis which struck at the heart of the trusted commitment to caring which had been the foundation of Quarriers from its beginnings. The headlines in the papers pulled no punches: "Orphans abused in Home that was hailed as a haven" (Herald, 8 September 2001); "Sex monster's reign of abuse in orphan Home'(Daily Record, 9 September 2001); "Depraved carer jailed forty years after abuse" Daily Record, 29 September 2001; "Children in Quarriers Homes suffered seven-year sex ordeal" (Scotsman, 8 September 2001). The fact that Samuel McBrearty (who had gone on to become a respected senior social worker in Aberdeen after he left Quarriers) had committed his crimes forty years earlier made no difference to their wickedness and little difference to the public perception of Quarriers' present-day responsibility. As the police investigation into other allegations against staff continued, Phil Robinson knew that Quarriers had to act decisively to deal with the crisis; so he launched a huge internal inquiry to find out what had gone wrong in the past and to ensure that that proper measures were in place to prevent it happening in the future. He also setup a helpline for former Girls and Boys so that they could phone in confidence if they wanted to allege that had been abused, or to ask for help and advice. Quarriers appointed a specialist after-care worker to assist anyone who wished to access personal files (the organisation holds records of more than 30,000 children), and to offer advice or support for anyone who might want it.

How had the abuse happened? In an interview with the Sunday Herald in May 2002 Phil Robinson said:

"We thought then that anyone in a position of trust with children would never do these dreadful things. It was a different era. Now we know that some people try and get access to children to abuse them."

Quarriers Homes, like other residential institutions at the time, was in many ways a closed community. Although changes were being made, the men and women who looked after children were largely untrained and there were no police or security checks of the type which are standard today across all areas where adults have care of children. As we've seen (see chapter 8, "Cottage Life"), fifty years ago there were few, if any, policies and procedures to prevent a cottage-mother or father from ill treating children, and if excessive cruelty was kept quiet - even at a time when physical punishment was considered justifiable - then sexual abuse would have been concealed to an even greater extent; public debate about paedophiles and the sexual abuse of children is such a headline topic in modern life that it's easy to forget that, in the past, it was simply never mentioned. Even in the Homes of the 1960s and 1970s, if a child were being sexually abused he or she would have been unlikely to come into contact with trained social workers and professionals who would recognise the signs. And, quite simply in a residential children's home in the days before police checks, where men and women had twenty-four-hour charge of children who were not their own, the potential for abuse was there.

The sexual abuse is an appalling crime and Quarriers has never tried to minimise its seriousness or how deeply it damaged the lives of the victims, not just as children at the time but for the rest of their lives. As Phil Robinson described it to me in a conversation in December 2004:

"Sexual abuse has particular characteristics. It can taint people's lives and destroy their whole image of themselves. It's uniquely destructive."

The fact that men and women were coming forward more than forty years later is proof of how long-term the damage can be. After the Samuel McBrearty case, charges were brought against three other former Quarriers' employees - Joseph Nicholson, John Porteous and Alexander Wilson - and convictions followed. Joseph Nicholson was jailed for two years in 2001 for abusing a thirteen-year-old girl in the late 1960s, and John Porteous (who had himself been brought up in Quarriers Homes then became a house-father) was convicted in of offences against two boys between 1969 and 1976. He was jailed in November 2002 for eight years (later reduced to five). His brother-in-law, Alexander Wilson, also a former house-parent, was sent to prison in 2004 for seven and a half years for sexual abuse.

Quarriers has not been alone as an organisation in having to face up to the issues of historical abuse. In December 2004 Jack McConnell, the First Minister of the Scottish government, issued an apology "on behalf of the people of Scotland" to victims of institutional sexual abuse in the past. It came during a debate on a petition brought to Parliament by Chris Daly, who claims he was abused as a child in Nazareth House, a Roman Catholic children's home in Aberdeen. His petition was lodged at a time when other cases of historical child abuse in several institutions in Scotland were coming to light, including Nazareth House and a list D school near Stirling. The petition called for:

"...the Scottish Executive to conduct an inquiry into past institutional child abuse, particular for those who were in the care of the state under the supervision of religious orders, to make an unreserved apology for said state bodies, and to urge the religious orders to apologise unconditionally."

In 2004 Phil Robinson gave written evidence to the Public Petitions Committee in which he pointed out, for the record, that Quarriers did not fall, and had never fallen, into the category of a religious order taking care of children on behalf of the State. He went on:

"Quarriers today is a very different organisation from that which once existed. It is no longer involved in mainstream residential childcare and most of its services are based at more that one hundred locations throughout Scotland and beyond, rather than Quarriers Village, as was the case prior to 1980. Since the issue of abuse first arose we have been proactive in implementing child protection polices and procedures which compare well with those of other agencies and offer the best possible protection for children involved in our services. We are not complacent, however, and are constantly open to advice as to how those polices and procedures can be improved...I and other senior managers at Quarriers stand ready to meet and discuss issues relevant to past child abuse, whenever this is helpful. In no way does Quarriers seek to cover up or evade the consequences of these events...

"As I am sure the committee is aware, a number of historical abuse cases have resulted in criminal convictions against former employees of Quarriers. Throughout the past four years I have consistently and publicly stated that our sympathies are with those who's lives have been blighted by the actions of those convicted individuals and that the organisation sincerely regrets these events of the past.

"I have met many survivors of child sexual abuse and organisations representing them. We have been more than willing to hear from their experience what more they think we can do for survivors today...Quarriers position is that if any individual suffered abuse at Quarriers then we apologise."

The very least that survivors are seeking is an acknowledgement of the suffering they endured as children and the awful scars which have remained with them ever since. The present Quarrier's management was not in charge in the 1960s and 1970s when those who have been convicted of abuse were working in the Village, but that does not absolve the modern organisation of its moral duty to acknowledge that crimes took place and to apologise to those who suffered abuse.

Quarriers has not tried to evade that responsibility. It has sincerely tried to act in a responsible and practically helpful way throughout these events. The organisation has made much of the fact that things are very different today in terms of how staff are recruited, how they are trained and the fact that everyone is policed-checked. It has also been honest enough to say that there cannot be a 100 percent guarantee that someone who wants to abuse children in the future will not find a way to do so.

Quarriers recognises that it has a moral responsibility for its past, regardless of whether that past was yesterday, or fifty years ago. Phil Robinson put it to me this way:

"We have a moral responsibility to all former boys and girls and their descendants. We have to be there for them, and in practical terms that means preserving the records, making the records accessible...We have a moral obligation to do that. We also have a moral obligation with regards the other aspects of the history or heritage, to preserve it, and make sure it's here for people to know what happened here, good and bad, and a whole range of things like that. We have to do that, and to pay for the cost of it. We have that moral duty."

The organisation will have to be prepared to stick to that commitment for, perhaps, many years to come. At the time of writing there is a least one other criminal case against a former employee pending, and there are civil cases now waiting in the wings - people who want to sue Quarriers for alleged historic sexual abuse. What will be the outcome of these remains to be seen, but one thing is sure: the future of Quarriers, however dynamic and committed to caring in the twenty-first century, will always be shaped by its past - good or bad.

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