Dumfries and Galloway Council Apology Print

Council apologises to sexual abuse children's home victims

Oct 2 2009 by Jackie Grant, Dumfries Standard Friday.

AN ADULT survivor of a sex abuse scandal at a council-run children’s home, broke down in tears as victims were issued an apology and £20,000 in compensation yesterday.

Dumfries and Galloway Council Social Work Director John Alexander told councillors at a special meeting that he hopes the settlement will help victims of evil paedophile Peter Harley “reach closure after a particularly dark period of childcare in the region and move on with their lives”.

But the Dumfries man wept: “It won’t bring closure for me. It has always been in my mind since the first time it happened when I was only 13 years old and has affected my life ever since.”

Residents of Merkland care unit in Moffat were routinely abused by officer in charge Harley, from 1977 until 1982. He was jailed for 15 years in 1996 after admitting 17 charges of sexually abusing and assaulting young boys.

In December 2000 he received a further sentence of eight years at Cardiff Crown Court for abusing seven young males from Dumfries and Galloway who he had taken on holiday with him to south Wales.

But Harley was released from prison in 2006 after serving only 10 years of his sentence and is now living in the Cardiff area, where he remains on the national Sex Offender’s Register.

The victim added: “I have been in the Crichton Royal Hospital eight times over the years and even had electric shock therapy. That was supposed to make me forget what happened to me. Instead, I can’t remember what I did last week or last month, but the memories of Merkland are as clear as ever. I’ll never move on until Harley is dead and buried.”

His wife said: “This has affected our whole family and nothing will ever be able to make up for it. I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with his hands round my throat, because he’s had a nightmare that Harley is coming after him again. Our kids have suffered because he’s been in the Crichton so many times.”

Another of Harley’s victims told the Standard how he was driven to the point of suicide: “I was regularly mentally, physically and sexually abused by Harley when I was 15 between 1981 and 1982. I still have nightmares of when he used to beat me up with crutches, walking sticks and belts across my back.

“I told social workers at the time but I wasn’t believed. In 1996 I met that same social worker in the street and he apologised to me.

“For years, I’ve had to go through this on my own, apart from 10 weeks of counselling.

“Around four years ago, I tried to kill myself. I just couldn’t cope any longer.

“Three people I knew at Merkland have killed themselves over the years because of what happened to us there. I wish they were here today to finally get their apology.”

A series of legal failings prevented any of the victims from receiving compensation from the council’s insurers in 2003, when their claims were dismissed as time-barred.

But a working group led by John Alexander recommended that the council make the individual ex-gratia payments of £20,000 to each of the 20 adult survivors known to them, set aside a further £400,000 for other former residents who come forward and make a public apology to the victims.

Another victim claimed that the law firm employed by some of the victims to pursue compensation from the council let them down.

He said: “The Law Society has to investigate this. We have been put through unnecessary pain and suffering for longer than we should have been.

“I hope this will start to bring closure for me. It has never been about the money. All I ever wanted was an apology.”

Although the working group concluded that there was no legal requirement for the council to make any payment in relation to what happened at Merkland, it felt that there was a “moral imperative to do the right thing in response to the wrong suffered by the adult survivors.”

After the apology to victims by council Leader Ivor Hyslop, the leader of the Labour Group Ronnie Nicholson said: “The children and young people from Merkland deserved care and protection from this authority. Instead they were abused by Peter Harley and have been let down ever since. What we are being asked to do is to recognise this and rightly apologise.

“When the Labour Group discussed this issue, there wasn’t a single voice detracting from the view that this was the right thing to do. There was, I have to say, a debate over whether the figure of £20,000 was enough and whether we should in fact be considering a higher figure. The truth is, no amount of money is ever going to compensate for the harm and abuse suffered by these children and young people.”

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