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£800,000 for abuse victims Print E-mail

£800,000 for children's home sex abuse victims

VICTIMS of child abuse at a Scottish council-run residential home are to receive £20,000 each and an apology from the local authority.

At least 20 people who were abused at Merkland Children's Home in Moffat, Dumfriesshire, during the 1970s and 1980s will receive the payments.

A fund of £400,000 will also be set aside by the council as provision for the possibility of other abuse victims coming forward.

Last night, a leading human rights lawyer said the authority was setting a good example of how such abuse should be dealt with.

But one of the victims at the Merkland home said: "No amount of money can make me forget what I suffered."

Peter Harley, the officer in charge at the home between 1977 and 1982, when it was closed, was jailed for 15 years at the High Court in Glasgow in April 1996 after admitting 17 indecency charges against boys aged between six and 16. He was released after ten years.

The decision to apologise to the victims and to pay them the money was made at a Dumfries and Galloway Council meeting yesterday.

Councillors said that, while the authority was not legally required to make any payment, it felt a "moral imperative to do the right thing".

Speaking after the meeting, the council leader Ivor Hyslop issued the apology.

He said: "Dumfries and Galloway Council deeply regrets the wrong done to the 20 children and young people who are known to have been abused while in the care of Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council at the former Merkland Children's Home in Moffat between 1977 and 1982 as a consequence of the serious criminal actions of the manager of the home at that time.

"The council therefore apologises unreservedly and publicly to those individuals and their families and gives its commitment to providing them with such assistance and support as is needed to find closure.

"That assistance and support includes individual financial payments of £20,000 as clear recognition of the harm that has been done.

"Nothing that the council can do will ever put right the wrong that has been done to those individuals, but we hope that this public apology and clear recognition of the harm done will help them to find closure and move on with their lives."

One of Harley's victims, now aged 43, who identified himself as Mr X, said: "Harley used to wake us at 3 or 4 in the morning, bundle five or six or us into his car and drive us into the countryside. He then made us walk up to six miles back to the home. The last one back was battered, and it was usually me.

"He used a belt, crutches or walking stick on us. I can still feel the pain to this day.

"Harley also sexually abused me and the others when we were in the showers."

He went on: "We have had to wait too long for the apology and payment. In my case, it has been 27 years. We have been fighting for something to be done, but it is only in the last six months that we have started to get help. At one stage, I was going to take my own life, but I struggled on."

John Scott, vice-president of the Society of Solicitor Advocates and a human rights lawyer, said that while it was unlikely to set a legal precedent, the Dumfries and Galloway move offered councils an alternative to legal action in dealing with liability in abuse cases.

"It's a useful example because there is a natural reaction on the part of councils in similar situations to deny responsibility and take it all the way until settling at court or where the court finds against it," he said.

A report to the councillors said the local authority had felt compelled to act after solicitors for the adult survivors had acted so slowly that there was real possibility of the cases becoming time-barred.

In 2000, the council asked the Law Society of Scotland to provide four "well-known and respected law firms" to deal with the actions.

Despite this, five Court of Session actions were dismissed in 2005 on the grounds of time bar.

Social work director John Alexander said the council now had a historic opportunity to draw a line under this "particularly dark period" in the history of childcare in the region.

He stressed that the payments were voluntary and a tangible way of recognising the suffering of the survivors and signalling the council's seriousness in dealing with the situation, although they would never right the inexcusable wrongs.

He said every effort would be made to contact other victims of Harley's abuse through newspaper adverts.

In Care Survivors Service Scotland offers support to adults who suffered childhood abuse in care and their families. Visit www.incaresurvivors.org.uk or call 0800 121 6027 for more information.

Published Date: 02 October 2009
By Craig Brown
The Scotsman