INQUIRY . . . the Merkland Children's Home case stunned residents in Moffat

INQUIRY . . . the Merkland Children’s Home case stunned residents in Moffat

THIRTY years after suffering physical and sexual abuse at a council-run children’s home in Moffat, adult survivors gathered in council chambers to hear an official public apology.

Dumfries and Galloway Council voted in favour of making the apology and paying £20,000 to each of the victims of paedophile Peter Harley, who was in charge of the former Merkland Children’s Home.

Some of the men broke down at various points during the meeting at which council leader Ivor Hyslop said he hoped the council’s action now would “help them to find closure and move on with their lives”.

After a special full council meeting it was revealed Harley, who was jailed for 15 years in 1996 for abusing boys at the home between 1977 and 1982, is now free.

The council’s social work director John Alexander said Harley had been released early from jail in 2006 and placed on the sex offenders register.

He is currently living in Cardiff and must inform the police and probation service if he ever wants to relocate.

Mr Alexander told councillors they had an “historic opportunity to draw a line under a particularly dark period in the history of childcare in Dumfries and Galloway”.

And he praised the adult survivors for their “strength and resilience in keeping up the fight” for many years.

A catalogue of legal failings meant survivors’ attempts to sue the council were eventually “time barred”.

Mr Alexander said: “It is an uplifting example of the strength of human spirit which deserves to be recognised and commended.

Nothing we can do will ever right the unspeakable wrongs those individuals suffered but we can and should do the right thing by them.”

Councillors voted by 31 to 2 in favour of Councillor Hyslop’s motion to approve the recommendations of a working group headed by Mr Alexander.

The defeated amendment put forward by Councillor Jane Maitland agreed the council should apologise but instead of making payments, instruct the chief executive to investigate the failure of the legal system in the Merkland case.

Twenty victims known to the council will each receive £20,000 and a further £400,000 will be put aside for more survivors who may emerge.

The money will come from council balances which Mr Alexander acknowledged would “restrict the council’s ability to meet other challenges”.

Public notices will now be placed in local and national newspapers inviting Harley’s victims at Merkland, which was run by the current local authority’s predecessor Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council, to come forward.

They will be “evaluated” independently of the council, using police records and forensic expertise to assess their claims.

Records show about 200 children spent time at the home during Harley’s six years there, when the regime was described as “severe”.

The adult survivors remain “a vulnerable group of people,” according to Mr Alexander and many are known to psychological services and drug and alcohol counselling services.

Council chief executive Gavin Stevenson will ask for a meeting with the Law Society of Scotland to express concerns about the apparent legal failings in the Merkland case, find out what action it has taken and what its current position is.

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