Migrants to sue Britain over abuse in Australia

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The Independent Online

Thousands of British foster children sent to Australia between 1951 and 1967 have hired lawyers to bring legal action against the Government for the abusive treatment they suffered in their new homes.

Thousands of British foster children sent to Australia between 1951 and 1967 have hired lawyers to bring legal action against the Government for the abusive treatment they suffered in their new homes.

Their families were led to believe the children had been adopted, but they were really in Australian institutions, often suffering under cruel regimes.

Most of the children were from broken homes and some were as young as four. Many were told they were orphans, although their families were still alive. Their parents had paid for the children to be taken into care homes in Britain, many run by churches. But when the adults returned to collect them they were told the children had gone to a better life.

A team of US lawyers is examining the possibility of bringing a claim in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg under various articles, including the prohibition on "torture, and inhuman and degrading treatment". Although the exodus of 10,000 children began as early as 1947, the lawyers are concentrating on those who left after 8 March 1951, when Britain signed a UN declaration pledging to protect the human rights of children.

At the Catholic children's home in Bindoon, on the outskirts of Perth in Western Australia, the first arrivals were forced to build their new home, while some of the children suffered sexual abuse.

Norman Johnston is a former Bindoon boy and president of the International Association of Former Child Migrants. He told the BBC that at least one deportee died alone, his body lying in a Perth mortuary for a week because there was no one to pay for his burial. When the police searched the dead man's home, they discovered he had grown up at Bindoon. He had written a letter asking for help in finding out if he had any family. But he had never posted it.

Mr Johnston's association wants an independent judicial inquiry into why the policy was allowed to continue under successive governments and who was responsible. "We have given the Government every opportunity to right the wrong they inflicted upon us," he said.

The Government did order a Health Select Committee investigation into the child migration policy. And Frank Dobson, when he was the secretary of state for health, announced a £1m travel fund for former child migrants.

It paid for a single visit home to see close relatives. Mr Johnston, who served with the Australian army in Vietnam, described the money as "nothing more than a Band-aid on a shell wound".

Britain's Shame, part of the Midlands Report series, will be broadcast at 7.30pm today in central England on BBC2.

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