In a debate which took place in the House of Lords yesterday on the Modern Slavery Bill, Lord Blackheath makes a startling revelation. He tells his fellow peers that whilst working for the Australian Civil Service in London, he was tasked with herding, as he puts it, small children on to boats at Tilbury, for transportation to Australia. Blackheath says:

“They did not have names; they did not know who their parents were, or where they came from, and they were completely terrified.” 

He recalls that at the time, he was “deeply suspicious” of this practice, and had a strong feeling that the children did not have the proper permissions to travel. Since then, he has been likened to Jimmy Savile, although to his credit, he does say his rap sheet is worse. Savile was responsible for abusing 300 children – Blackheath facilitated the abuse of 2,500 vulnerable minors, none of whom knew where their parents were, or what was happening to them. They were completely alone in the world. And yet Blackheath, with his strong suspicions, which included the belief that what he was being asked to do to those children was in fact illegal, chose to keep quiet.

You would think that after an admission like that, Blackheath would be a little more introspective. But no. No longer speaking in the first person he tells us:

“It involved many tens of thousands of children over 15 years; we should be deeply ashamed of it.”

The rest of Blackheath’s statement is equally interesting. He details how these children were shipped off to Australia (careful to mention this happens during a Labour government – Blackheath is a Tory boy); how the courts there refused to sanction any adoptions involving these children; and how subsequently, they all ended up on the streets. 2,500 children. On the streets. All on their own.

And then, he goes on to share his knowledge, common knowledge as it turns out, that many of these children over time were picked up by so called religious organisations who were in fact abusing children emotionally and physically. Two of these organisations appear to be infamous – The Sisters of Mercy, who were Catholic nuns, and the Christian Brothers, who were already known in government service as the “Christian buggers”. “Already known in government service”. How about that.

Blackheath also tells us:

“The rules of a Christian Brothers home were that if you were abused by one of the holy fathers, that was an act of god, and if you complained about the holy father, that was a sin against god and you would be flogged for it. By the way, the flogging was with a metal hacksaw replacement blade. It did not leave much of a kid… Any ship that was allowed to sail from that date on was allowed to sail in the knowledge that the inmates were going to be raped and abused.”

And yet Mr Blackheath did nothing. He did not utter a word.

A group of social workers at the time, though, did. And of course, they were ignored.

Blackheath goes on to detail separate accounts from this period of time, but his statement, which clearly goes off at a long and winding tangent – the Lords are supposed to be discussing amendments to the Bill – is cut short by time watching peers.

So why does Blackheath make this startling admission and swerve the debate completely off course? The amendment he was discussing was Amendment 6. This is what it says:


Insert the following new Clause—

“Forced child migration

(1)     A person commits an offence if the person arranges or facilitates the travel
of a child (“C”) with a view to transferring C’s permanent residence unless
the person reasonably believes that—

(a)   C’s parent or guardian consents,

(b)   it is necessary for securing compliance with an order under section
8 of the Children Act 1989, or

(c)   it is necessary for securing compliance with an order of a court in a
foreign jurisdiction.

(2)     For the purposes of subsection (1) “permanent residence” shall not include
any detention under a sentence that is imposed by a court after a conviction
for a criminal offence.

(3)     A person may in particular arrange or facilitate C’s travel by transporting
or transferring C, harbouring or receiving C, or transferring or exchanging
control over C.

(4)     A person arranges or facilitates C’s travel with a view to transferring C’s
permanent residence only if the person knows or ought to know that C is
travelling in order to live for a substantial or indeterminate period of time
in a different location to the one in which C lived before the travel.

(5)     “Travel” has the same meaning as in section 2.

(6)     A person who is a UK national commits an offence under this section
regardless of—

(a)   where the arranging or facilitating takes place, or

(b)   where the travel takes place.

(7)     A person who is not a UK national commits an offence under this section

(a)   any part of the arranging or facilitating takes place in the United
Kingdom, or

(b)   the travel consists of arrival in or entry into, departure from, or
travel within, the United Kingdom.

(8)     For the purposes of this section, a “person” shall include a public body.”

Was it a guilty conscience, perhaps? A fear that he might find himself under scrutiny? After all the amendment if enacted might in some way be retroactive. And with the nation’s Inquiry into child abuse he may be feeling a little nervous about being thrust into the spotlight. Nevertheless he’s done that for himself, by telling the world what he did in a public debate in the House of Lords. Whilst we appreciate that there may be a trace of contrition in that act, it’s hard not to feel disappointed by those who choose not to do the right thing when it comes to protecting children from being exploited.

You can track the Modern Slavery Bill’s progress here.

A very big thank you to Maggie Tuttle for sharing this item with us.

Lord James of Blackheath