Merkland victims misery Print

Merkland victims misery

Feb 5 2010 by Jackie Grant, Dumfries Standard Friday

VICTIMS of a sex abuse scandal at a council-run children’s home have had their benfits stopped after being paid £20,000 in compensation.

One Dumfries mum who was routinely abused by paedophile Peter Harley at Merkland Care Home in Moffat told the Standard she won’t even claim the cash until she knows how it will affect her benefits.

She said: “We had to fight hard for an apology and compensation for what we were put through at Merkland, but I’m totally depressed over the whole thing.

“Most folk who were at Merkland are on the dole and for benefits to be stopped is like a kick in the teeth.

“We thought it was great at first that we’d be getting the money but it’s actually scary. We’ve never been given any support or guidance on how to deal with it and I’ve shed a lot of tears over this.

“I thought the money would pay for my funeral some day but I’ve been to see solicitors who told me Income Support will make me live on it. After everything we went through, it seems so unfair and feels like the council has won again.”

Residents of Merkland were 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 Wales.

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 Offenders’ Register.

Merkland victims were issued an apology and £20,000 in compensation last year by the council after 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.

One Dumfries man has even fled the town after being hounded by drug users and prostitutes and says the cash has brought him nothing but misery.

He said: “I’ve had enough of people trying to get cash out of me. I wish I’d never been given the compensation because it’s been more of a hindrance than a help.

“My benefits have been stopped and it feels like we’ve been given something in one hand and had it taken away in another. What was the point in getting it if we can’t use it to make our lives better? The quicker I spend it, the better.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “There are occasions where we can disregard compensation payments for a length of time so they do not affect entitlement to benefits. In this case, if anyone thinks that this could apply to them, it's important they let us know so we can make sure they get the right benefits. People also have the right to an independent appeal if they do not agree with our decision.”

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