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"It was our duty to protect these children in remand homes. Instead they were sexually abused by staff for years."

By INVESTIGATIONS EDITOR, Neil Mackay, Glasgow Sunday Herald

News Special report, 2nd September 2007.

Former Glasgow 'borstal' at the centre of the latest child abuse scandal.

How the Sunday Herald brought abuse to light.

David Whelan, Scotland's leading campaigner for victims of child sexual abuse in care, said the government's review of historical abuse would never have happened if the Sunday Herald had not campaigned on the issue and run a serious of investigations into the institutional abuse of children.

Out of dozens of sex abuse investigations carried out by this paper, two key stories led to the unravelling of the true extent and human toll of the abuse of children in care. In July 2000, we reported how a widespread campaign to protect paedophile priests was orchestrated by the former leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, the late Cardinal Gordon Joseph Gray. He was among senior clergy who refused to act against paedophiles in the Church after being informed by his own that sexual abuse had taken place under his jurisdiction.

And in November 2002 the Sunday Herald reported how Scotland's most renowned children's charity Quarriers, which cares for the most profoundly disabled children in the country, had knowingly allowed a paedophile to live alongside the children it was supposed to care for.

Whelan said the claims of abuse at Larchgrove made it all the more essential for a serious of public inquiries to be held into the sexual assaults of children in care in previous decades.

Whelan now a successful businessman, was placed in care in Quarriers in the late 1960s. He was sexually abused by John Porteous, a house parent. In 2002, Porteous was jailed for eight years. His sentence was later cut to five years, and he was recently released after three years.

ON THE eve of a watershed government report explaining why children in Scottish care homes from the 1950s until the 1990s were allowed to be sexually abused, the Sunday Herald has uncovered yet another disturbing scandal.

It centres on the sexual assault of children that lasted for decades in government-run Scottish remand homes and assessment centres - the country's equivalent of borstals. Although children were abused at a number of borstal-type institutions in Scotland, the worst site appears to be a former Glasgow borstal called Larchgrove.

The details are coming to light just as the Scottish Executive is preparing to publish the Historical Abuse Review, which is meant to draw a line under a series of shocking revelations about sex abuse in care homes run by independent organisations such as the Catholic Church and charities such as Quarriers.

Des - not his real name - was put in Larchgrove 27 years ago as a boy. He was detained for playing truant from school to avoid bullying.

"I was in there between 1978 and 1979," he told the Sunday Herald. "The sexual and physical abuse was terrible. This was perpetrated both by staff - although not all of them - and also by people who didn't work there.

"I complained at the time, ran away and was dragged back screaming. Nothing was ever done. I still wake up screaming, sweat running off me, because of the abuse I suffered."

Des said he ended up a heroin addict through using drugs to "block out all the pain and abuse I suffered there". He's now been clean for six years and is happily married. He was the first of many people spoken to by the Sunday Herald who confirmed the routine abuse of children at Larchgrove.

Reg McKay, a former director of social work who is now a best-selling crime writer, said he was aware of the abuse of children at Larchgrove from the very beginning of his career.

As a trainee social worker in the mid-1970s, McKay came face-to-face with boys who provided evidence of sexual abuse at the infamous borstal.

McKay was the social worker for three teenage boys who were locked up in Larchgrove. In 1976 they told him that they had witnessed other children suffering sexual abuse at the hands of both male and female staff. "These kids weren't bad boys," said McKay. "They were deeply disturbed - from dysfunctional homes. They had some very serious personal problems and were at risk of turning to offending or falling into drug misuse." One boy told McKay that the most dangerous time in Larchgrove was just after lights-out when the boys were put to bed. The boys were housed in small dorms holding six to eight beds. Staff would sometimes call boys from their beds. Often this was for valid reasons, such as administering medicine, but at other times it was simply to abuse them.

McKay says that on some occasions female staff took the children from their beds to be abused. The women provided the children with a false sense of security, ensuring that they didn't panic or scream on their way to be abused. The women were "either standing by or taking part" in acts of abuse, McKay added.

"I knew this was happening back then as I heard the allegations personally," said McKay. "The kids trusted me and had no reason to lie. When I reported the allegations to management I expected a full investigation to take place for the sake of the boys who were being abused.

"It was our duty to protect these kids and we clearly failed them. I went on to report what I was being told up the chain of command. I raised the allegations with senior members of social work staff. As far as I know there were at least three internal investigations, but nothing happened. There were no sackings, no charges - nothing.

"To be blunt, many of the homes where children were being kept in those days were worse than something out of Oliver Twist. I can even remember staff taking money from children. These were kids who had nothing in the first place."

McKay says that he recalls the same allegations resurfacing about Larchgrove in the 1980s. "Allegations of child sex abuse were being made against many similar institutions at the time. As far as I know, nothing was done about these claims either."

McKay says that some managers "hated" him for reporting allegations of abuse and demanding investigations. "Many social workers found themselves in the same position: raising concerns and allegations with management then having no power to ensure the right action was taken," he added. "It was bloody frustrating - especially when you or a colleague went back to the same institution a year or two later and heard similar allegations."

Later, as McKay's career as a social worker progressed, he led two investigations into allegations of sexual abuse at Kerelaw - another institution for detaining children who'd broken the law. Glasgow City Council also ran this facility for vulnerable children. Kerelaw closed last year amid allegations of abuse.

Glasgow City Council admitted that 40 of its employees had been alleged to have been involved in the sexual or physical abuse of children at the home. The council also said that some of those suspected of abusing children at Kerelaw were still working with children in care.

At the end of his investigations into abuse allegations at Kerelaw in the 1980s, McKay recommended that the claims be passed to the police immediately and that those accused of assaulting children be suspended with no pay. "Once again, nothing happened," he said. "And once again, I have no idea why."

Frank Doherty, founder of the Scottish organisation In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), was sent to Larchgrove for 28 days in the late 1950s. He'd previously been in care in the notorious Smyllum orphanage in Lanarkshire where many children were abused. He used two words to sum up his memories of Larchgrove: "Getting battered."

Doherty was sent to Larchgrove for "petty criminality", he said. The physical abuse he suffered at Smyllum had left him a mental wreck so he was in no state to withstand the violence at Larchgrove. "Going into Larchgrove after being in Smyllum set me back years as I'd already been battered and tortured. Larchgrove was just another Smyllum. I saw regular physical violence in Larchgrove and I was often on the receiving end of it."

Tommy "TC" Campbell was another child inmate at Larchgrove. He knew boys who were abused and spoke of warders trying - but failing - to sexually abuse him. Campbell was wrongly jailed for life for the deaths of six members of one family in a firebug attack during Glasgow's infamous "ice cream wars". He was jailed in 1984 and his conviction was not quashed until 20 years later.

Campbell has always admitted that he was a tearaway as a teenager. He ended up in Larchgrove borstal in the mid-1960s aged 14 for truanting, trespassing and stealing eight pence. "Everything was brutal. The staff were just like screws," he said. "They thought nothing about giving you a wallop. There were also a few child molesters among them." It was common for boys who misbehaved to have their trousers pulled down before being beaten with a cane on their backsides.

Campbell says he knew of a number of boys who were sexually abused. He also named one warder who preyed on the weakest boys in the borstal. The warder would single out bed-wetters and other vulnerable children, believing they were less likely to inform or resist.

"They'd target the weak ones," he said. "They wouldn't go for the boys who were rebels or who were tougher lads as they wouldn't stand for it. They'd go for the ones with no mum and dad - the ones who were in there for care and protection. It was the worst place the state could have sent them.

"Everyone knew what was happening. You'd see boys being taking out of showers or their dorm and then the boys would tell you what happened to them. It was a terrifying place. You'd see boys in total terror - crying and withdrawn."

Campbell said that at the beginning of his time in Larchgrove there were attempts made to sexually abuse him. "Three different warders tried it with me," he said, "but they realised very rapidly that I was not one to try it with." Campbell later butted a warden for physically assaulting him.

"The whole place was mentally and psychologically oppressive. We were starving all the time - there were fights over a slice of bread." Campbell says that the children were even fed tins of pet food. "It was like Colditz. Boys were always plotting ways of escaping, although you'd be badly beaten for trying." Many boys were deliberately disruptive because they hoped they would be transferred to an adult jail and get away from the abuse at Larchgrove.

Tom Shaw, who is heading up the independent review of historic abuse for the Scottish government, said his report - due out shortly - investigated the flaws in the care system that allowed paedophiles to abuse children. He said that the revelations about Larchgrove underscored the need for the review. "It shows the point of our work," he said.

The review will highlight failures in the system which can be used by victims of abuse to sue the state for failing to protect them while young. However, no individual homes or perpetrators will be named in order not to prejudice future criminal trials.

Referring to the claims of abuse at Larchgrove, Shaw added: "What we don't know is how many more people may still want to come forward to tell their story."

The Glasgow Sunday Herald.

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