Siblings who suffered sexual abuse in Church of Scotland children’s home win £1 million payout

Three siblings who were sexually abused by a care worker at a Church of Scotland children’s home have won a record damages payout totalling ?£1 million.

The former Lord and Lady Polwarth Children's House.
The former Lord and Lady Polwarth Children's House.

The compensation is the highest ever known to have been recovered from a religious body in Scotland.

The victims, two males and a female, were preyed on by paedophile Ian Samson at Lord and Lady Polwarth Children’s House in Edinburgh.

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The boys and their sister, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were repeatedly assaulted by the predator during a campaign of sexual and physical abuse that spanned three decades.

Part of the girl’s ordeal involved enduring an abortion when she became pregnant as a result of being raped.

Samson’s campaign of abuse was carried out between the 1970s and 1990s. He was jailed for 14 years in 2013 for a string of sex offences against children, including rape.

The woman has now secured £500,000 – understood to be the biggest publicly-known payout to a child sex abuse survivor in Scotland.

Her brothers each received £250,000 after raising a civil case against the Kirk.

The siblings have welcomed the award, but said their decision to mount legal action was about forcing the Church to “do the right thing” and take responsibility for what happened under its watch.

“Samson was evil and robbed us of our childhood and our future,” they said in a statement.

“Our case has never been about the money. Raising a civil action in the courts was the only way we could get any sort of acknowledgement from the Church of Scotland. It’s a shame that an organisation which promotes goodness and morals can’t do the right thing themselves and hold their hands up and apologise, rather than force victims to go endure further legal proceedings.

“We nearly gave up so many times in getting the Kirk to accept responsibility, so we’re delighted this is now over and have the justice and closure we need to get on with life as best we can.”

They encouraged anyone else affected by abuse to “be strong and step forward”.

Samson worked as a superintendent at the Lord and Lady Polwarth home alongside his wife, who was a matron there.

Some children hid in cupboards or dog baskets to avoid being targeted. Those who could not escape were subjected to violent attacks, both physical and sexual.

The caretaker managed to keep his job at the care home, on the city’s Colinton Road, despite being suspected of taking obscene photos of a child.

In 2013, he was found guilty at the High Court in Edinburgh of 22 offences, involving sexual abuse and raping 12 children. Eight of the offences took place at the Kirk-run home, with others occurring at various locations across Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Kim Leslie, a partner at Digby Brown Solicitors, led the civil action against the Church on the grounds of vicarious liability.

She said: “Ian Samson was rightly jailed for abuse he inflicted upon children after exploiting his position with the Church of Scotland.

“The significant sum secured for our clients also gives you an idea of just how extreme Ian Samson was and how horrifically our clients suffered.

“In terms of settlements made public against religious groups, this is certainly the highest value I’m aware of in the 20 years I’ve practised law.

“Sadly there will be other brave survivors who have fallen victim to similar campaigns of abuse and to them I would say, stay strong, keep going and when you’re ready to talk or take action, then there’s a wealth of support for you when the time is right.”

The Kirk admitted it had failed the children and said lessons had been learned.

A Church of Scotland spokesperson said: “Whilst this settlement can never undo what has been done, we hope that it finally brings a sense of justice to the individuals affected and provides some small redress for the trauma which they experienced while in our care.

“The abuses perpetrated by Ian Samson at Lord and Lady Polwarth Home in the 1970s are matters which have been examined by the criminal courts and by the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, and for which we have expressed our deep and sincere regret.

“We became aware of the full facts in 2013, at which point we offered our full support to the victims.

“While Samson’s abuse of children was wider than his activity in Lord and Lady Polwarth Home, it felt important to us that there was full acknowledgment of the harm which did occur in our care at the time and the longer-term consequences for three siblings involved.

“The safety of children is of paramount importance to us. We have carried out a full independent review of the circumstances occurring in the 1970s so that we could learn any lessons for our safeguarding practices today.

“We did offer sight of that review to the family affected before it went for publication, through Police Scotland. However, we are not aware of whether they have seen it.”