Victims to sue over abuse at Sailors' Society home

Lagarie Children's Home
Image caption Dozens of people have told BBC Scotland they were abused at the home

Former residents of a children's home in Argyll are suing the charity which ran it over claims of physical and sexual abuse.

In 2018 more than a dozen people who lived at Lagarie in Rhu told the BBC's Disclosure programme they had suffered repeated abuse.

Lawyers acting for the alleged victims are taking legal action against the Sailors' Society in two test cases.

The charity said it had previously apologised unreservedly for any abuse.

Between 1949 and 1982, hundreds of children were sent to live at Lagarie. The home was managed by the Sailors' Society, a Christian charity supporting the families of men working at sea.

Image caption Roddy Austin says he wants the charity to stand up and take responsibility

Roddy Austin lived there in the 1960s. In 2018 he told the BBC he suffered repeated abuse.

He said: "Unless you've lived it, you can't experience it, you can't try to fathom what went on in that place."

Stuart Rivers, the then chief executive of the Southampton-based charity, was interviewed for the programme and apologised for any abuse that happened.

Speaking in 2018, Mr Rivers, who resigned in May last year, said: "I was horrified when I heard these accounts. We do regret any abuse happened and we have apologised unreservedly that this abuse happened."

He added that he could not change the past but he could make sure the charity did "things right now."

But lawyers acting for some of the former residents say the Sailors' Society has failed to make good on those words. They are now taking two test cases to court.

Image caption Matron Anne Millar pictured with with Roddy Austin

Patrick McGuire, partner with Thompsons Solicitors, said: "We have a situation where the chief executive apparently apologised in the BBC documentary.

"We now see just how hollow those words are. What they are doing is forcing every single survivor to give their evidence in court. It's demeaning, it's insulting and it's denigrating to those people who they abused in the first place."

He said it was more than a year since the BBC documentary but the solicitors for the Sailors' Society had failed to engage in any meaningful correspondence on the matter.

"They have not admitted liability and they have not indicated any willingness to engage in any discussions with us," he said.

Roddy Austin is not one of the test cases but hopes the Sailors' Society will now "stand up and take responsibility".

"Even though they promised 'we will make things right', they haven't," he says.

"They need to make it right for us instead of sitting on their back ends thinking it'll go away."

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Sailors' Society said: "We deeply regret that any child was abused at Lagarie and we have apologised unreservedly for any abuse that was suffered by children who were in the care of the British Sailors' Society (Scotland) at that time.

"The current Sailors' Society is a very different organisation. In recent years we have worked hard to respond as fully as we can. We have met with survivors, kept up contact with survivors who have wanted contact with us, financed counselling, asked police to reopen their investigations and fully cooperated with the police and the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.

"We cannot comment further given the sensitivities of the matter and the fact that this is the subject of legal action."

Previous Disclosure investigations include:

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