Scots councils paid £1.5m to child abuse victims

The Scottish Government is trying to make it easier for victims of historic abuse to gain redress. Picture: Getty Images
The Scottish Government is trying to make it easier for victims of historic abuse to gain redress. Picture: Getty Images
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SCOTTISH councils have paid out around £1.5 million in compensation to the victims of child abuse during the past decade.

Payments were made in relation to physical and sexual abuse which took place in schools and children’s homes.

Dumfries and Galloway made the biggest award, paying out a total of £1m to 50 individuals abused at the Merkland children’s home in Moffat. Smaller amounts were paid by Glasgow City Council and Fife Council.

The figures are published today as work gets under way on Scotland’s inquiry into the historical abuse of children in care, which is due to begin taking evidence in October.

The inquiry’s chair, Susan O’Brien QC, took up her position earlier this month after surviving a last-minute legal challenge by two Catholic congregations to unseat her.

One of the issues O’Brien will be asked to consider is interim compensation payments for those abused while in care.

The Scottish Government has already announced plans to lift a time bar which previously stopped many survivors taking civil actions against their alleged abusers.

Information obtained under Freedom of Information legislation shows Dumfries and Galloway Council made 50 payments of £20,000 each between April 2009 and 2011 in relation to abuse carried out at a former care home.

Peter Harley, who was in charge of the Merkland children’s home between 1977 and 1982, was jailed for 15 years in 1996 for inflicting physical and sexual abuse on boys aged from six to 16.

Attempts to sue the council were dismissed by a court in 2003 as time-barred, but the local authority agreed in 2009 to make ex-gratia payments.

Fife Council said it had paid out £369,000 between October 2005 and December 2008 in relation to St Margaret’s House in Elie.

But the council declined to reveal the actual number of payments, saying to do so would contravene the Data Protection Act.

In 2001, former care worker David Murphy admitted charges relating to the abuse of boys spanning a 25-year period. He later died in prison.

Fife’s social work department had set up an inquiry in 1999 after one of Murphy’s victims – by that time in his forties – went to the police.

The compensation figures for Fife include £150,000 paid to Tam Wilson, who was abused over a six-year period at St Margaret’s in the 1960s. His award was thought to be the biggest of its kind ever paid out in Scotland when it was made in 2006.

Glasgow City Council said it had made nine payouts, totalling £85,350, which were made between April 2008 and October last year.

The council said compensation was paid in relation to Chaplet Avenue Children’s Unit, Duntarvie Pre-School Assessment Centre, Everslie Children’s Home, Kerelaw School and Whitehill Secondary School.

Kerelaw, in North Ayrshire, was run by Strathclyde Regional Council and then Glasgow City Council before being closed in 2006, when former art teacher Matthew George was jailed for 10 years for a series of physical and sexual assaults.

Scotland on Sunday received responses from the vast majority of the country’s 32 local authorities, with most reporting that no compensation payments had been made, or that no information was held.

The issue of compensation is back on the agenda after the Scottish Government announced plans to lift the time bar for anyone with a claim dating from after 1964.

However, campaigners want interim payments to be made now to around 100 elderly survivors of abuse, who may not live to see the conclusion of the five-year public inquiry. Alan Draper, a spokesman for In Care Abuse Survivors (Incas), said: “The time bar has been a major block on survivors seeking any form of redress.

But Draper said there was also a need for compensation to be paid now to survivors who do not have time to wait for civil actions.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are looking at experiences in other jurisdictions and are keen to find solutions for survivors.

“That’s why we have announced we intend to remove the legal time bar that prevents people raising civil actions and claiming compensation after more than three years for cases after 1964. And that’s why we are providing an extra £14.5 million funding for support alongside the services we already provide.

“We are already one of the only countries to have dedicated funding for survivors of abuse. The extra funding will enhance existing services and introduce a new dedicated support fund for survivors of abuse in care.

“We are also talking with former care providers and have asked them to consider how they could contribute. We realise how urgent this work is and that’s why we have announced that the fund will begin its work as soon as possible.”