The Haven That Turned into Hell; It Should Have Been a Loving Home for Orphans. Instead, It Was Den of Sexual Abuse

Article excerpt

Byline: JONATHAN BROCKLEBANK

EVEN now, almost 40 years on, they still hear the voice of their tormentor summoning them.

'Would one of you girls come up and switch out the light!' he would shout, and the children would freeze in terror at the bottom of the stairs.

Whose turn was it tonight? The young girls would whisper gravely among themselves until they resolved the issue. Then one would climb the stairs, steeling herself for what was to follow.

Switching out the light was not the point of going upstairs. The children knew they were being called for one reason only: to be sexually abused by their pitiless houseparent Alexander Wilson.

Which one was up to them.

The horror of life at the Quarriers Village orphanage near Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, was recalled this week when Wilson, 61, became the fourth paedophile in three years to be jailed for abusing the orphans and abandoned children.

The awful irony is that Quarriers Village was supposed to be a haven, a warm and caring countryside environment for children who had already been exposed to more than their share of sadness.

Some had been orphaned; others born illegitimately and quietly cast aside.

Here, in the village created by committed Christian William Quarrier in the late-1800s, their childhoods could be rescued and restored. They would be welcomed into new, loving 'families' headed by two responsible houseparents who would become their guardians and guiding lights.

At its peak in the 1920s and 1930s, more than 1,500 children lived in the several dozen village cottages - and many benefited enormously from the experience.

But by the late 1950s, according to witness testimonies, many childhoods were being destroyed and what emerged at Wilson's trial was a merciless culture of child abuse spanning decades.

That was highlighted when one of the victims was asked why she did not complain that he was sexually molesting her. Her tragic reply was: 'I thought the abuse was normal because I'd got it from my previous housefather.'

IN Wilson's case, there was another heartbreaking reason why he was able to carry on preying on young girls from the mid-60s into the 1980s. They genuinely loved his wife Jan, whom they called 'mum' and they feared that exposing her husband as an abuser might destroy her. She died in 1995, nine years before the past finally caught up with Wilson.

Other victims, now in their late forties and early fifties, wept in the witness stand as they told how Wilson had abused them when, as little more than toddlers, they sat on his knee to read.

One recalled feeling sick on a car journey. Wilson stopped the car and as she leaned over to be sick, Wilson sexually abused her.

Yet another middle-aged woman told how Wilson molested her as a child in the bathroom, kitchen and playroom, over many years.

She said at one point during her stay at Quarriers, Wilson and his wife left to run a pub in Wales. His departure came as a blessed relief for the youngster who had also been abused by her previous houseparent. But within two years, Wilson was back and the abuse continued as before.

The woman testified that she did once try to bring his depraved regime to a halt. She complained to a senior member of staff, Bill Dunbar, that she 'felt uncomfortable' with Wilson. Dunbar called her a liar. Housefathers, he assured her, 'didn't do that sort of thing'.

She was ordered back to the cottage where she lived with the Wilsons and 13 other children.

There, her ordeal continued... as it did even when she moved away from the home as a young adult.

Once, when she returned to the home with her toddler daughter to visit Mrs Wilson, her husband sexually abused her again.

He did it once more when he visited her Glasgow home. Asked in court why she did not stop him, she said: 'He was my 'dad'. …