Scotland

Lifelong search to discover fate of 17 Clark siblings

Clark family from top right: Andrew, Bernard, Billy, David, George, Ian, James, Joan, Mary Ann, Sandra, Tommy and Elizabeth O'Brien
Image caption Family from top right: Andrew, Bernard, Billy, David, George, Ian, James, Joan, Mary Ann, Sandra, Tommy and mother Elizabeth O'Brien

When Bernard Clark saw a car unexpectedly pull up outside his home in Greenock in 2011, it marked the beginning of a remarkable chapter in his life.

Out stepped two men he had never met but instantly knew. They had tracked Bernard down against the odds, mainly thanks to sheer determination.

Bernard said: "When I met George and Jim - when them two walked into the house - nobody had to tell me. When I saw them even getting out of the car, before they came to the door, they were my brothers."

Bernard was close to his sister Joan as they were growing up. The pair were removed from the family home in 1956, along with their four-month-old sister Sandra.

The authorities found the children in squalid conditions and covered in lice, in what was described in press reports from the time as a "drinking den".

Image caption The Greenock Telegraph detailed the case of Elizabeth Clark in June 1956

Their mother Elizabeth Clark was jailed for six months after the depute fiscal at Greenock Sheriff Court called it "one of the worst case of child neglect" he had ever seen.

However, what Bernard had forgotten - he was not even two years old at the time - was that five other siblings had also been living in the house.

Bernard said: "As far as I knew, it was just Joan and I. I was never told about any other brothers and sisters."

Both Bernard and Joan were fostered together, while Sandra was later adopted to another family in Ayr.

Dilapidated outbuilding

But life did not improve for the pair, who suffered regular beatings in their new household, with Bernard later sexually abused.

George Clark was the sibling who had set out to find out more about his family.

Image caption George Clark worked for more than 40 years to find his brothers and sisters before his death in 2015

He and his older brothers Tommy and James had also been living in the family home in 1956 when they were "boarded out" to a farm in the Highlands as a result of the neglect case.

Boarding out was a practice that began in the 1870s and was used by social services to send neglected children out of densely-populated urban areas into the countryside.

However, two of the brothers, James and George - aged just eight and six - suffered sustained physical abuse and were treated as slaves at the hands of their new guardians.

They were eventually removed by social services after their living conditions, in a dilapidated outbuilding, were discovered.

For more than 40 years, George worked to uncover the truth about what had happened to his other brothers and sisters.

Image caption David Clark was adopted into a loving family, who brought him up as Ian McLean

He first found his younger brother David, who had been given up for adoption by his mother Elizabeth at 10 months old to a Salvation Army home.

David had been brought up under the name Ian McLean. He found out at the age of 18 that he had been adopted, but was completely unaware that he had any brothers or sisters.

George later discovered another younger brother, Peter. He too had been given up for adoption and his name changed. He grew up as Ian Savage.

Ian McLean said: "We were both adopted separately. We grew up without knowing anything about each other, or in fact anything about any of the others."

He added: "George was the driving force to bring the family together."

Before his death in March 2015, George was able to discover the incredible truth that there were in fact 17 children in his family.

Image caption George was told that Sandra had been adopted by a family and taken to Australia

Among them were six children, John, Isobel, Ruth, Anna, Elizabeth and Peter, who all died in childhood - some at just a few days old.

George did, however, find his sister Sandra living with her family near Ayr, despite being told by the authorities that she had been taken to Australia.

Sandra too was completely unaware that she had any brothers and sisters. Sadly a few months after she met George, Sandra died.

Sole photograph

He also tracked down his older sister Mary Ann in Dundee. Born in 1937, she died in 1993 before she could be reunited with all her living siblings.

According to her sons, she had never got over the loss of her brothers, including her older brother Billy, who was sent to a children's home in Aberdeen and very little heard of since.

George was only ever able to discover the fate of 15 of his siblings. Two - Tommy, born in 1945, and Andrew, born in 1957 - he never found.

However, the family were later able to trace Andrew, the youngest child. He was the only child who grew up with his mother Elizabeth and his father William.

He has the sole photograph of Elizabeth, taken when he was about three years old.

Image caption Three-year-old Andrew with his mother Elizabeth. The only picture the family has of her

Andrew was also completely unaware that he had brothers and sisters.

He was found by the family living in England thanks to numerous local newspaper adverts they had placed.

The family has struggled to come to terms with the neglect they experienced as children, however, their anger at the authorities is palpable.

Bernard said: "They lied to us. What were they trying to achieve?

"What kind of life would I have had if we'd all stuck together. Would it have been better? Who knows? But we never had the chance."

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Media captionBernard says he has a great deal of anger over the response from the authorities to his family's search for each other

James, who worked with George to find information on the family, said it took the pair four-and-a-half years to get access to their files from Inverclyde Council.

He added: "This is not just one family. There are hundreds of families that have been put through the system and left in a mess. It's got to stop.

"What the system has done to this family is pull it apart in immeasurable ways."

Ian Savage, formerly Peter Clark, added: "I think it's very sad that families can be kept apart and not know that other members of the family exist.

"You should have a right somehow to know that you had a family. It should be your choice as you get older."

Image caption A family reunion with the youngest brother Andrew (centre)
Image caption Ian Savage (born Peter Clark), Bernard Clark, Joan Clark, Ian McLean (born David Clark) and James Clark

The family has been told that the Data Protection Act 1998 bars the authorities from freely releasing all records connected with their case.

The act prohibits the release of personal information to third parties and has directly stopped family members from accessing details that would have helped them trace their brothers or sisters.

A spokeswomen for the UK's Information Commissioner said: "The Data Protection Act does not prevent councils releasing personal data.

"However, before disclosing any information in cases like this, councils are required to consider all the circumstances involved.

"They would need a legal basis for disclosing the personal details; they should consider whether disclosing the information is fair and lawful and also check if any other laws apply before complying with a request."

In a statement, Inverclyde Council said it was working with the family to overcome some of the difficulties they had faced gaining access to their information.

It said: "We recognise and fully understand the family's disappointment. In recent years we have strived to address the barriers experienced by the Clark family."

A Family Divided, which tells the story of the Clark family's struggle to find each other, will be broadcast at 21:00 on Tuesday, 11 April on BBC2 Scotland.