Scots ex-child migrant never got over lie of being orphan

Lady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. Picture: Nick MailerLady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. Picture: Nick Mailer
Lady Smith, chair of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry. Picture: Nick Mailer
A former child migrant has told how he has not come to terms with being told he was an orphan for more than 40 years, only to find out his family was alive in Scotland.

James McGregor was speaking at the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry when he told of emotional and sexual abuse he suffered while in care in Australia.

The 78-year-old – who waived his right to anonymity – was put into care at Nazareth House in Aberdeen aged around four months old.

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He was then shipped to Western Australia in 1947 to be looked after by the Christian Brothers religious order at Castledare.

Mr McGregor, known as Bert, was told he was a “war orphan” until 1987 when he found out he may have relatives – including his mother – in Aberdeen.

He said: “I still can’t come to terms with that. I don’t think my life – had I stayed in Scotland – would have been a bed of roses, I think it would have been hell also.

“But not to have the chance of belonging to a family and to have a relationship – either good or bad – is a great sin.”

He told the inquiry a nearby river was a “lifesaver” where he enjoyed swimming during his youth. He described the surroundings and the property as beautiful, but the regime at the institution was void of any emotional support. The second home he stayed in – in nearby Clontarf – was said to be very similar.

One of the clergymen working for the religious order was said to have contributed to much of the witness’s worst time in care.

He said: “He was tall, he was lean. He was domineering, he was very ignorant. He was cruel, he was possessive and he was a paedophile.”

This controlling nature included the clergyman becoming angry if the witness spoke to any other adults.

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The abuse was only said to have become sexual when his attacker moved to the second residential institute too, when the witness was aged around 13.

Mr McGregor added: “By that time he was a fully-fledged paedophile. He would take me to his room and I would stand by his door until he was ready, then he took you to bed with him. You can imagine the rest.”

The inquiry heard that around this time Mr McGregor suffered a “breakdown” for which he received no proper treatment.

After leaving the second care home aged 16, he finally learnt how to read properly.

He blamed the poor quality of education as the reason for his late learning.

The inquiry continues.