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Quarriers Homes: The haven that turned into Hell

It should have been a loving home for orphans instead it was a Den of Sexual Abuse

By Jonathan Brocklebank, Daily Mail, 20/03/2004

Even now, almost 40 years on, they still hear the voice of their tormentor summoning them. "Would one of you girls come up and switch out the light!" he would shout, and the girls would freeze in terror at the bottom of the stairs. Whose turn was it tonight? The young girls would whisper gravely amongst themselves until they resolved the issue. Then one would climb the stairs, steeling herself for what was to follow. Switching out the light was not the point of going up the stairs. The children knew they were being called for one reason only: to be sexually abused by their pitiless housefather Alexander Wilson. Which one was up to them.

The horror of life at the Quarriers Village orphanage near Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire was recalled this week when Wilson became the fourth paedophile in three years to be jailed for abusing the orphans and abandoned children.

The awful irony is that Quarriers Village was supposed to be a haven, a warm and caring countryside environment for children who had already been exposed to more that their share of sadness.

Some had been orphaned, others born illegitimately and quietly cast aside. Here, in the village created by committed Christian William Quarrier in the late-1800's, their childhoods could be rescued and restored. They would be welcome into new loving "families" headed by two responsible house parents who would become their guardians and guiding lights.

At its peak in the 1920's and 1930's more that 1,500 children lived in the several dozen village cottages - many benefited enormously from the experience.

But by the late 1950's according to witness testimonies, many childhoods were being destroyed and what emerged at Wilson's trial was a merciless culture of child abuse spanning decades.

That was highlighted when one of the victims was asked why she did not complain that he was sexually molesting her. Her tragic reply was, "I thought the abuse was normal because I got it from a previous housefather".

In Wilson's case there was another heartbreaking reason why he was able to carry on preying on young girls from the 1960's into the 1980's. They genuinely loved his wife Jan, whom they called "Mum" and they feared that exposing her husband as an abuser might destroy her. She died in 1995, nine years before the past finally caught up with Wilson.

Other victims now in their late forties and early fifties, wept in the witness stand as they told how Wilson had abused them when, as little more than toddlers, they sat on his knee to read.

One recalled feeling sick on a car journey. Wilson stopped the car and as she leaned over to be sick Wilson sexually abused her. Yet another middle-aged woman told how Wilson molested her as a child in the bathroom, kitchen and playroom, over many years.

She said that at one point during her stay in Quarriers Wilson and his wife left to run a pub in Wales. His departure came as a blessed relief for the youngster who had had also been abused by her previous house parent. But within two years Wilson was back and the abuse continued as before.

The woman testified that she did once try to bring his depraved regime to a halt. She complained to a senior member of staff, "Bill Dunbar" that she felt uncomfortable with Wilson. Dunbar called her a LIAR. House parents, he assured her, "do not do that sort of thing".

She was ordered back to the cottage where she lived with 13 other children. There her ordeal continued, as it did even when she moved away from the home as an adult. Once, when she returned to the home with her toddler daughter to visit Mrs Wilson, Mrs Wilson's husband sexually abused her again.

He did it once again when he visited her Glasgow home. Asked why she did not stop him she replied, "He was my dad. I though if he did it to me, he wouldn't do it to my daughter".

Yet Wilson's catalogue of abuse was far from exceptional. In 2002 his brother-in-law, ex-Boys Brigade leader John Porteous, 71, was jailed for eight years for abusing boys in the village's 50ft tower between 1969 and 1977. His antics earned him the nickname "Beast of the Belltower"

Former house parent Joseph Nicholson - nicknamed "Uncle Joe" - from Aberdeenshire, was jailed for two years in 2001 for abusing a 13 year-old girl over an 18-month period during the late 1960's.

Then there was Samuel McBrearty, 75, a vicious paedophile whose reign of terror began in 1961. In 2001 he was jailed for 12 years for repeatedly raping two girls and indecently assaulting a third. At the time the abuse began the girls were aged just eight, ten and eleven. Chillingly, McBrearty rose to be a respected senior social worker in Aberdeen before his retirement in 1995.

But the abuse wasn't confined to the male house parents. In 2002 Mary Drummond's terrifying regime of the 1950's and 1960's was revealed in court. She tormented children as young as five with a "bogey man" called Baw Baw, made from a mop with a grass skirt. Her favourite form of mental torture was to lock the youngsters in cellars, cupboards and outhouses with the figure.

On one occasion, as a child was leaving the home Drummond burnt the little girl's toy golliwog as her friends watch in horror. "You came in with nothing and you will leave with nothing," the care worker told the child.

The 75 year-old who used to tell children she had been sent by GOD, was put on probation for three years after she admitted five charges of cruelty. Meanwhile one of McBrearty's victims, now a mother-of-three, who told of a squalid childhood all too familiar to Quarriers' young charges, was overjoyed when Wilson was convicted. "These men are sick," she said, "they are the scum of the earth. How can they live with what they have done?"

The 53 year-old, known only as Mrs Y, arrived at the home from a broken home in the early 1960's. The abuse began when she was just ten and continued for seven years and even today it casts an indelible shadow over her life. Throughout adulthood she has suffered from a depressive illness and lives on 50-a-week disability allowance because she can't work. Now living in Manchester and still in need of counselling she said, "I still have flashbacks of being raped by McBrearty. He was always in his pyjamas. He would creep into my bed one night. Next night it would be another girl". She never understood what he was doing: "I was only ten and we were never told about sex in the home".

Mrs Y left Quarriers at the age of 17 in 1968 and joined the Army. She said, "People say we should have told someone but when some of the girls tried to report the abuse to the most senior person, he did not believe them. After that we all knew to say nothing. I keep asking myself if there was anything I done at all to encourage them but I never did."

"That place was a hunting ground for perverts who ruined thousands of lives. Wilson was one of the worst. He'd shepherd us into church twice on a Sunday and again on a Wednesday and stand there as bold as brass, singing hymns. His hypocrisy is breathtaking."

Mrs Y, who is suing the charity, added, "My family only know part of the story. I'm still in touch with one girl from the home. We speak ever so often but we never mention those dreadful times".

The full horror of Quarriers was revealed six years ago when one of McBrearty's victims went to her lawyer about an unconnected matter and mentioned what had happened at the home. The lawyer advised her to talk to the police. Six years later, related inquiries are still going on.

Despite everything that has emerged since, there are those who held key positions at Quarriers during the 1960's who find it hard to believe the victims statements refer to the same peaceful environment which they recall. And Wilson, who lost a leg through illness several years ago, claimed in court that that the eight women testifying against him had all lied.

Asked by prosecutor John Martin why they would all put themselves through the distress of appearing in court to lie about childhood sexual abuse. Wilson simply mumbled, "I don't know". Later he admitted he was "saddened" by the allegations. Mr Martin responded: "I thought you would have been devastated".

The jury at the High Court in Glasgow unanimously found him guilty of 15 charges of molesting children. He was remanded in custody to await sentence.

Meanwhile Quarriers today is a totally different operation and the village where Wilson once preyed on the girls caters for children with special needs not orphans.

Its dark history is now a memory - a sickening memory forever imprinted on its victims' souls!

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