Exiled orphans call for judicial inquiry

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FORMER child migrants, who were deported to Australia without the knowledge of their parents, yesterday called for a judicial inquiry into their treatment by Roman Catholic orphanages.

They claim that they suffered severe mental and physical abuse involving public floggings at the hands of nuns and brothers - and were treated as orphans although their parents were alive in Britain.

Giving evidence to the Commons health select committee, former child migrant John Hennessey broke down in tears as he recalled his childhood in the Christian Brothers orphanage in Perth, Australia.

Mr Hennessey, now 62, was 10 when he was deported. He said he has been frightened and felt inferior ever since.

"As we got to Perth, we all stood in a line and brothers and sisters were separated straight away. I will never forget their screams," he said.

Once, because he was hungry, he stole some grapes from a vineyard and, as punishment, he had to strip naked in front of 50 other children and suffered a flogging which "nearly killed him".

At the age of 16, many migrants were sent to work on farms and told not to return to the orphanages.

"We had no identity, no birth certificate, nothing. In my years there I did not receive a single cuddle," Mr Hennessey added.

The former child migrants were unable to become Australian citizens because they had no birth certificate.

"They just lied to us about our backgrounds. We had no idea that we might have family in Britain. We believed them because they were priests and brothers and nobody would have ever thought that they would lie to us.

"It is absolutely scandalous what happened to us and while we do not blame this government this still happened to us - to British flesh and blood. There should be a judicial inquiry to establish how this could happen."

Matthew Dalton, 59, who was deported in 1947, told MPs how he managed to trace his mother, half-brother and half-sister in 1995 .

He said: "When my mother tried to trace me after the war they told her I was lost in evacuation and she accepted it - why wouldn't she believe nuns?"

Mr Dalton said he was in the Sisters of Nazareth orphanage in Swansea at the time and could easily have been found. "There was a blatant cover- up."

Earlier this year, the Sisters of Mercy orphanage in Neekol, northern Queensland, apologised after it emerged that hundreds of children, many of them from Britain, suffered torture and sexual abuse.

The order, which committed the cruelties over 90 years, is being investigated by the Queensland state government.

The child immigrant scheme, which was mainly organised by the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of Nazareth was a bid to bring "fresh, good white blood" to former colonies. Hundreds of children were shipped to Australia for a "new start" until 1967.