An American evangelist is planning to convert a derelict Victorian mansion in Scotland into a "baby ranch" to take in pregnant girls who agree not to have abortions.
The Rev Bob Hill, of the His Family Church, North Carolina, has been active as a missionary in Scotland for six years and earned a high reputation among fellow religious leaders for his work in helping women, the young and the homeless. But his proposal for Overtoun House in West Dunbartonshire – which is linked to one of the most notorious murder cases in Scottish history – has provoked fears in some quarters of a Victorian-style workhouse in which teenage girls would be taken out of society and "institutionalised".
Mr Hill and his backers are willing to invest more than £2m to convert the derelict former maternity hospital into a sanctuary for up to 12 girls. He is working in conjunction with West Dunbartonshire Council and a number of local religious organisations to develop the scheme, which will be supervised by missionaries from the United States. Mr Hill, a former US Air Force radar technician, says he secured the lease to the 138-year-old building because he claimed to have immediate access to the necessary finance and no need of extra public money to complete the project.
West Dunbartonshire Council is expected to give final approval for the scheme in the next few weeks. But critics have called on the council to consider carefully how the scheme will be funded after claims that the pastor's church is linked to a right-wing religious organisation in the United States called Globe Missionary Evangelism.
GME was founded in 1973 with donations from the Florida-based Liberty Church which is one of four American Christian groups to donate money to the West Dunbartonshire project. Political Research Associated, a monitoring group which investigates right-wing organisations, claim GME operates "boot-camp evangelism".
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, which has its own Pro-Life Initiative set up by the late Cardinal Winning, said the church welcomed the project. He said: "It was initially thought it would be run on an institutional basis for any woman facing an unexpected pregnancy. Obviously we had some reservations as to whether that was the best way to provide help.
"Our aim has always been to build on the friend and family support that already exists and not take these women out of society and into a central hostel. It now seems this is going to be much more like a drop-in centre which women can go to for classes, crèches, and support and that seems to make sense. To call it a 'baby ranch' as some critics have is stretching it a bit."
The spokesman also played down suggestions that the scheme was linked to the far right. "Pastor Bob Hill is working in conjunction with the local authority and with various churches in Scotland to produce this particular scheme," he said. "We should focus on that as opposed to any other work that's going on in other parts of the world, particularly among certain groups in the states, which is irrelevant."
Overtoun House was built for Lord Overtoun in 1859 by the architect James Smith. His daughter, Madeleine, gained notorietywhen she was put on trial for the murder of her lover who died from arsenic poisoning.The case caused a sensation in Victorian Britain as her love-letters were read out in court and she was portrayed as an innocent seduced by a blackmailer. The jury found the case "not proven".Reuse content