Sexual abuse victims of Dumfries and Galloway care home recover £1.3 million in damages

Sexual abuse victims at a notorious institution have recovered £1.3 million in damages in landmark legal actions against Dumfries and Galloway Council.

Three brave survivors have ended their 47-year quest for justice after being attacked by predator Peter Harley at Merkland Children’s Home in Moffat.

Harley, now 79-years-old and locked up in HMP Glenochil in Alloa, was jailed on three separate occasions after preying on kids in the 1970s.

His litany of crimes made him one of Scotland’s worst sex offenders.

Court papers show that Dumfries and Galloway Council was liable for the legal case because it is the historic successor of Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council, which was the name of the local authority when the abuse happened.

It is feared Harley was part of a wider paedophile ring involving potentially dozens more victims – with other criminals still to be brought to justice.

And there are now calls for the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) 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 SCAI to fully investigate Merkland as quickly as possible.”

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.

In 2009 the local authority offered Merkland victims goodwill payments of £20,000 but these payments do not stop victims pursuing legal actions.

A Dumfries and Galloway Council spokesperson 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.”