Australia yesterday apologised for the brutal and often illegal forced adoption of tens of thousands of babies born mostly to unmarried mothers between the 1950s and 1970s. The adoptions, driven largely by religious groups in the post-war period," created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering", the national apology delivered by Prime Minister Julia Gillard said. "To you, the mothers who were betrayed by a system that gave you no choice and subjected you to manipulation, mistreatment and malpractice, we apologise," she said to applause from 800 people affected by the policy. "We say sorry to you, the mothers who were denied knowledge of your rights, which meant you could not provide informed consent. "You were given false assurances. You were forced to endure the coercion and brutality of practices that were unethical, dishonest and in many cases illegal." The apology also acknowledged "the profound effects" on fathers and children "who grew up not knowing how much you were wanted and loved". The decision to offer a formal apology follows an Australian Senate inquiry into forced adoptions found as many as 225,000 babies were removed. Scores of mothers and children gave evidence at the inquiry which looked at the forcible removal of infants between 1951 and 1975 in Australia, then a conservative and predominantly Christian nation. Gillard added "no collection of words alone can undo all this damage".