Scotland

Former child migrant tells abuse inquiry of 'living hell'

Stock image of a teddy bear in front of a window Image copyright Thinkstock

A man who was shipped to Canada under a child migrant programme has described the experience as "living hell".

Edinburgh-born Roddy Mackay, who waived his right to anonymity, left for Canada in 1941 when he was six years old.

The 84-year-old gave evidence to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry on Wednesday.

Mr Mackay spoke of routine beatings during his time at Fairbridge Farm School in British Columbia, as well as sexual abusers who preyed on children.

He said: "We went through these white gates, which one of my school mates described as the pearly gates of Hell."

Mr Mackay said his house mother made his life "a living hell".

He said she would take the children's shirts off to belt them and then lock them up in the basement.

"She was more than strict.

"I was praying with all my heart for God to do something. Whenever she lost her temper we didn't know what we were going to get.

"I would be pleading 'please stop, Mom'. It was often enough to get burned into your mind forever."

'Guttersnipe'

Fairbridge Farm was opened in 1935 as an orphanage, which Mr Mackay said was used to teach boys to work on farms and girls to work as domestics.

Children were shipped there under the UK government's child migration policy.

Other punishments described include being confined to small area, as well as persistent name-calling such as "guttersnipe".

Image copyright Nick Mailer
Image caption The inquiry is chaired by High Court judge Lady Smith

The inquiry heard the house mother would eat nice food off china plates while the orphans had porridge with worms in it for breakfast.

Mr Mackay told how older children would bully the younger ones, while he himself was close to being sexually assaulted by a teenage boy.

He said it was lucky another child walked into the room before anything more serious happened.

According to Mr Mackay, a convicted sexual abuser who had worked at the orphanage was allowed to return after prison and went on to assault more children.

Trouble caused by older teenagers would be blamed on the younger ones. This meant they would "take it in turns" to admit to acts they had not done and be beaten for it by the house mother.

'Bitter, bitter feelings'

But Mr Mackay said it was being separated from his family which had the most impact on him.

It was not until 1976 when his brother Rob visited him in California, USA that he learned he had two younger brothers.

He was unable to trace them until 1999.

Mr Mackay, who left the orphanage when he was 17 and joined the army, said: "One of the things I get bitter, bitter feelings about is the fact that they had these records.

"I was in my late 60s before I was able to obtain records that could have assisted me in reconnecting with my brothers.

"People ask me 'have you got any closure now you have met you family?'.

"I say no, I can't say I have closure here - I'm looking at the years that we missed over some stupid records, that nobody told us existed."

Mr Mackay went on to become a spokesman for child abuse survivors in Canada.

He met Gordon Brown in 2010 when the former prime minister apologised on behalf of the UK government to people who had suffered through the country's migration scheme.

The inquiry before Lady Smith continues next week.

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