Saturday, 26 May 2007

former residents

The Witherwack children's home closed 10 years ago Former residents of a council-run children's home who claim they were abused have won thousands of pounds in compensation. Lawyers for Sunderland City Council have agreed out-of-court settlements of up to £50,000 each for 15 alleged victims, just days before a civil test case was due to be heard in Newcastle. They are part of a 60-strong group who say their lives were ruined at Sunderland's now-demolished Witherwack House, and 24 other care homes across Wearside and the North East, between 1960 and 1990. A spokesman for Sunderland City Council, which denies liability, said: "The hearing due to commence on 24 February at Newcastle County Court is no longer proceeding on the basis of settlements agreed." Cases reviewed The council took its decision following a recent Court of Appeal hearing, which extended the time limit given to adults who allege abuse occurred when they were children. Solicitor Brian Peuch said he was "optimistic" about gaining settlements for the remaining 45 claimants, whose files will now be reviewed by his legal team. He told BBC News Online: "Our other claimants' cases will be reviewed. If they were in homes where compensation has now been negotiated for others, we would be looking to get comparable compensation for them." The current legal action - the largest of its kind in the north-east of England - emerged after two care workers at Witherwack House were found guilty of child cruelty in 1993. Three years ago a trial into claims of child neglect at the home collapsed. A Newcastle Crown Court trial judge cleared four former social workers, after ruling that witness statements from events up to 20 years earlier could not be relied upon. Mr Peuch said: "The other claimants can be optimistic, though I don't want to raise their hopes too much." Since Witherwack House closed 10 years ago, there has been an independent inquiry and two police investigations into allegations of abuse in city council-run homes.
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