Abuse inquiry hears about foster mother’s cruelty after child was ‘boarded out’ to remote croft

A former soldier’s head and hands were held down on a hot cooker and he was lied to about his real family, an inquiry has heard.

Stewart Wilson was one of thousands of vulnerable children sent to remote places in Scotland as part of a child care programme known as boarding out, which he said is now viewed as a derogatory term.

Mr Wilson, who had been living in Glasgow where he had a brother, sisters and an aunt, was taken into care after his grandmother died in the 1960s.

She had adopted him after her 15-year-old daughter, Mr Wilson’s mother, gave birth to him after being sexually abused by her father – his grandfather.

At the age of four, Mr Wilson was taken to a croft in Tiree by social workers from Glasgow Corporation to be put into the care of a couple who were looking after 21 other children at the time.

It was here where he remembers being repeatedly beaten with a bull’s halter by the woman being paid to care for him, and “anything else she could get her hands on” on a regular basis.

On arriving at the remote house, he remembered his foster mum, who cannot be named for legal reasons, telling him she was his mother now.

“She explained to me I was a bastard and my parents were dead and she said my mum was a whore,” he said.

And despite being separated from his brothers and sisters when being taken into care, he said he was told by social workers that he was an only child, which he said caused “lifelong mental health problems”.

The witness told the Scottish Child Abuse inquiry, which is investigating the abuse of children in care in Scotland, of one attack where the woman forced his head and hands on to the burning rings of her electric cooker after accusing him of stealing an orange, which he had not done.

The inquiry heard teachers at his school noticed the burn marks the next day, and asked if he told them about what happened, Mr Wilson replied: “What could I say?

“Given I was a boarding out, what was the point?

“Nothing was done about it, nothing at all.”

Mr Wilson said he was “top and tail” in a double bed with up to five boys at one time aged between five and 13 years old every night while living on the croft.

After being fed dinner from what Mr Wilson described as a trough, the children were put to bed at 7pm.

Their bedroom door would be tied shut with string until 4.30am when they were awoken to do chores, the inquiry heard.

When asked what he would do if he needed the toilet in the night, he said they would “pee out the window”, adding “you had to be a contortionist to be able to do it” and that if there was an emergency such as a fire, the children would be reliant on the couple to let them out.

Mr Wilson said some of his jobs at the croft involved having a hay bale strapped to his back to walk with to a field to feed livestock, and digging ditches that were taller than him to bury cows in when they died.

In his statement to the inquiry, Mr Wilson said the children taken into care by the couple were taken in “for pure profit,” and that “it wasn’t done for love”.

“There was no love shown, no compassion,” he added.

“We were fed, we were clothed, there was no pat on the back, there was nothing apart from that we should be grateful that she took us in, that’s all it was.”

Speaking to the PA News Agency after the inquiry hearing, Mr Wilson, a grandfather who has two daughters and a son, said he was denied the truth about his family while in care.

After leaving the care system, he said he embarked on researching his roots himself.

“It took me 16 years, but I found all of them,” he said.

“Some of them were in England, Canada, Australia.”

He said he managed to meet all his siblings face-to-face, apart from one brother who died soon before the two had planned to reunite.

Mr Wilson said he never saw his mother again, and that she died at the age of 34 having taken an accidental overdose of medication prescribed for depression.

With one granddaughter and another grandchild on the way, Mr Wilson said: “I have learnt how to hug now, thanks to my gorgeous granddaughter.

“I was an awkward dad, I couldn’t hug, and my children knew that, but they still said I did a good job.

“But now I can, and I can really be a caring person, something I never witnessed growing up.”

The inquiry, being held in Edinburgh, continues.

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