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The Prince’s Trust, which was founded by King Charles, is legally liable for the victims’ claims. Photograph: Reuters
The Prince’s Trust, which was founded by King Charles, is legally liable for the victims’ claims. Photograph: Reuters

King Charles urged to intervene over ‘insulting’ child sexual abuse payments

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Exclusive: Surviving victims of ‘farm school’ abuse will only receive £2,000 each from Prince’s Trust, which took over liabilities of Fairbridge Society

King Charles has been urged to intervene after the Prince’s Trust, the youth charity he founded, said it would pay compensation of just £2,000 each to child survivors of sexual abuse.

The settlement has been offered to hundreds of British children who were removed from poor working-class families or care homes by the UK government in the last century and sent to “farm schools” in Australia and Canada for “opportunity and education” and then suffered sexual abuse.

The Prince’s Trust is legally liable for the survivors’ claims because it took over Fairbridge, a UK-focused charity whose previous iteration ran the farm schools, in 2012.

Although the UK high court last year put the value of the Fairbridge survivors’ claims at around £204,000 each (A$382,000), administrators for the redress scheme have told survivors they will receive about 1% of that figure because “insufficient moneys” have been set aside for the claims by the Prince’s Trust.

The payment was called “outrageous and grossly unfair” and an “insult” by survivors’ representatives.

The Old Fairbridgians Association, a group that represents Fairbridge survivors, has written to King Charles to express its “deep concern” at the Prince’s Trust’s behaviour. It urged him to intervene to persuade the trust to make “more adequate compensation” available to survivors.

In a letter to Charles seen by the Guardian, David Hill, a board member of the association, who was sent from Essex to an Australian farm school in the 1950s aged 12, implores the king to intervene to correct what he calls an “injustice” perpetrated by the Prince’s Trust.

The letter says the limited funds made available by the Prince’s Trust mean that the likely “dividend” to survivors amounts to a penny in the pound.

“This means that the body which bears the initial responsibility for the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of hundreds of Fairbridge farm children, some as young as five years of age, intends to pay each survivors an amount of up to approximately AUD$3,820 (£2,400) or, in many cases, less than that.”

It continues: “I cannot begin to tell you how offensive, hurtful and distressing this is to all Old Fairbridgians, all of whom are now elderly and nearly all of whom have borne the trauma and scarring from their experiences throughout the whole of their lives. Many of them have never been able to live anything approaching normal lives as a result of their experiences at Fairbridge institutions.”

The Fairbridge Society dates back to 1909, when it was created as part of a plan to send youngsters from Britain’s slums to its Commonwealth colonies to work on farms, in part, according to a recent UK national child abuse inquiry, to “enhance the Empire’s white stock” and as an attempt to address problems of child poverty.

A 2018 report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) concluded Fairbridge had failed to protect children at four farm schools in Australia, Canada and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from sexual abuse. It called the child migration programmes “a deeply flawed policy that caused lifelong damage to many children” and recommended that surviving children receive financial redress.

The Prince’s Trust took over Fairbridge – by then a UK-focused youth charity – in 2012. The trust formally apologised in 2018 for the “hurt and suffering experienced by victims and survivors” of the Fairbridge schemes, and in 2020 created a vehicle to manage compensation.

However, Fairbridge survivors’ representatives have become frustrated at the Prince’s Trust, one of the best known and wealthiest youth charities in the country. The trust has not said publicly how much money it put aside in Fairbridge Restored, though it is understood to be £1.275m.

The trust’s scheme is understood to have received 328 applications from survivors of sexual abuse at the Fairbridge farm schools who were still alive after March 2020, or their families.

The association is furious at the time taken by the administrators to arrange payments – it is now five years since redress was promised by the Prince’s Trust, and three years since it registered Fairbridge Restored Ltd.

Hill estimates that around a quarter of eligible victims have died since 2018. Fairbridge Restored’s administrators, Grant Thornton, says it hopes payments will be completed by April 2024.

In a letter to survivors this month, Grant Thornton said: “The creditors of Fairbridge are individuals claiming for damages for physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse while under the care of Fairbridge.”

Buckingham Palace did not comment and referred questions to the Prince’s Trust.

The Prince’s Trust declined to comment, saying: “As conversations between the Trust and the administrators of Fairbridge (Restored) Limited concluded some time ago, I can confirm that any questions you have should be directed to the administrator.”

This article was amended on 24 May 2023. An earlier version referred to Fairbridge farm schools in Rhodesia, rather than Southern Rhodesia.

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