Sexual abuse victims in £1.3m win against council

Three survivors have ended their 47-year quest for justice after they were abused at Merkland Children’s Home in Moffat.

Merkland sexual abuse victims in landmark win against council PA Media

Sexual abuse victims of a notorious care home have recovered £1.3m in damages after a 47-year quest for justice.

The three survivors lived through attacks by predator Peter Harley at Merkland Children’s Home in Moffat, Dumfries & Galloway.

Harley, now 79-years-old and locked up in HMP Glenochil, was jailed on three separate occasions after preying on children in the 1970s making him one of Scotland’s worst sex offenders.

But there are fears he could have been part of a wider paedophile ring with more victims still to come forward.

There are now calls for the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry to speed up their review of Merkland and for police to question Harley in the hope of bringing other abusers to justice.

Richard Pitts, Partner at Digby Brown in Edinburgh, said: “The £1.3m recovered tells you just how serious this abuse was – it’s also landmark for being the highest known sums recovered for survivors with Merkland abuse claims.

“Harley preyed on the most vulnerable children in the most abusive ways – he was cunning, abused his power and has shown no remorse.

“But there are fears in the survivor community this is just the tip of the iceberg with Harley being part of a wider network where he and others effectively used Merkland as a hunting ground.

“It would therefore be of the utmost importance for the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry to fully investigate Merkland as quickly as possible to cast light on this dark chapter so survivors get the recognition they deserve because in addition to all survivors getting recognition it is equally important that all perpetrators are brought to justice.”

“Harley preyed on the most vulnerable children in the most abusive ways – he was cunning, abused his power and has shown no remorse.”

Richard Pitts, Digby Brown

Children were sent to Merkland Children’s Home in Moffat after suffering neglect at home but were targeted by Harley who exploited his position as care home manager.

The serial paedophile – known as ‘Pops Harley’ – was found guilty of multiple criminal charges against children between the years of 1977 and 1982.

Previous reports revealed he attacked children when they awoke during the night from bad dreams. Others would be molested as they sat on his knee while watching television.

In December 2000, he was jailed for a further eight years after being convicted at a second trial in Cardiff – this was in connection with abuse carried out on a group trip to Wales.

Then in 2022 he was imprisoned for a third time – this time for three years – after two previously unknown victims stepped forward.

All three of the recent Merkland abuse claims against Dumfries and Galloway Council were raised as court actions. The council ended up settling out-of-court with each survivor securing six-figure sums.

The three survivors were each involved in the prosecutions against Harley – two from 1996 and one from 2022.

Two more Merkland abuse claims against the council are ongoing but details cannot be disclosed to protect survivors.

A spokesperson for Dumfries and Galloway Council said: “It would be wholly inappropriate for the council to comment on individual cases or any matter that is currently subject to a legal process.

“Where the council is insured against liability, compensation payments are made through the council’s insurers.”

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