Social services were to blame for the circumstances which allowed David Murphy to conduct a 30-year campaign of sexual and physical abuse against children in his care at St Margaret’s Children’s Home in Elie, Fife, and Linwood Hall

Children in his care were subjected to an appalling regime of abuse. Some were forced to stand naked for hours, girls were spanked on their bare bottoms, boys were forced to shovel coal in their pyjamas. One practice, known as “shakey wakey”, involved boys being dragged from assembly and their heads slammed against walls.

Among the most damaging revelations was the failure of social workers, police and council officials to prevent Murphy from working with children again after the first allegations surfaced in the early 1970s.

Even when Murphy was removed from one children’s home, he was allowed to take up a new job looking after children because social workers did not want to get involved and his records had been destroyed.

The report concluded that he exhibited classic paedophile behaviour which was not detected by social workers, who were described as, at best, shadowy figures who dropped in for a cup of tea and then left, never to return.

Those children who plucked up the courage to report the abuse were branded liars, and after Murphy was eventually removed from St Margaret’s his new boss was told the reasons for the transfer were “none of his business”.

Investigators concluded the abuse was allowed to continue because of a series of failures by the bodies involved, a culture in which little credence was given to the word of children in care, and an assumption that those working with children had their best interests at heart.

March 2001

Former child worker jailed for abuse

A children’s home manager who abused boys in his care over a quarter of a century has been jailed for 15 years.

The High Court in Glasgow heard that David Murphy, 69, abused his position of trust and inflicted damage on the children in his care in Fife.

Defence advocate Mark Stewart said that whatever the length of the jail sentence, Murphy expected, because of his age and ill health, to die in prison.

Fife Social Work Department ordered an inquiry after one of Murphy’s victims, now a 48-year-old grandfather, finally went to the police in 1999.

At an earlier hearing, Murphy had admitted 30 offences, involving 18 boys.

Murphy appeared for sentence after admitting sexually abusing boys while he was running St Margaret’s Children’s Home in Elie, Fife, over a 25-year period. He also held a post as a senior house attendant at Linwood Hall in Leven, Fife and abused boys there too

The accused initially faced 60 charges involving 35 boys, but the Crown accepted guilty pleas to half of them

The judge, Lord Hardie, told Murphy:”Your victims were children who required help, but instead you abused your position of trust to inflict damage on them over a period between 1960 and 1986.

Writer’s ‘stolen childhood’ 

THE shocking story of a stolen childhood is set to become a bestselling book for author Sandy Reid.

Snatched from his travelling family by Fife County Council when he was just a one-year old baby, Sandy (51) would be destined never to see his mum again.

“Never to Return” is the story of how one boy endured terrible hardship and deprivation, yet survived against the odds.

And, his story is flying off the shelves – even though the publishers were unable to find a single childhood photograph of Sandy to illustrate it.

“I wrote it in three months, the publisher never changed a word,” said Sandy.

“I had known the details so well in my head and had made so many notes – I’d been thinking about it for a long time. But the book’s not a gripe, I’ve tried to balance it.”

In the dead of night, social work staff swooped on the Reid’s family tent at Borelands Wood near Kirkcaldy in 1959.

As was policy at the time, he and his four year-old sister Maggie were forceably taken from their distraught mum, Mary Reid.

It was ironic – given the council’s belief it would provide “tinker” children with a better life – that they were sent to a foster home at the Laundry House on the Balcarres estate near Colinsburgh.

From the age of two, Sandy was fed boiled white tripe every day, he was beaten, and Maggie was forced to stand in the frost in her underwear

Neighbours repeatedly complained to the RSSPCC yet, unbelievably, social services left the children there for three years.

When Sandy moved out at the age of five, he weighed the same as he did when he arrived aged two.

He was sent to the now-demolished Greenbanks Home in Leven, near Aithernie Road, which meant new challenges.

As Sandy told readers last week, the high walls surrounding the home meant no-one knew what was going on inside

He said: “If you came from a travelling family you were at the bottom of the pile in the system’s eyes.

You got food and shelter, that was it.

“We were treated differently from the other kids. We were scum. I was always referred to as the ‘tinker boy Sandy Reid’ through all my social work notes.”

As punishment for childish behaviour, Sandy was forced by the home’s matron to sleep for weeks in a cot, do the toilet in a potty and eat baby portions.

Positive relationships in Leven were provided by his “lovely” teacher at Parkhill Primary School, Mrs Kelty and a kindly disabled old lady who lived locally.

However, not surprisingly, Sandy’s behaviour became increasingly aggressive inside Greenbanks itself.

The “Welfare” decided to send him to the psychiatric Ovenstone unit near Pittenweem, where doctors heavily sedated him.

There were benefits though, Sandy revealed: “I would never have got the eventual direction I did but for the teachers at Ovenstone – they were progressive. The piano lessons were my sanctuary.”

One Christmas, he wandered into the local woods and stumbled across his uncle and aunt, Sandy and Peggy Stewart – who were well-known in Levenmouth.

They broke the terrible news to Sandy that his “mammy” had died the previous year.

Devastated by the news, Sandy blurted to staff their whereabouts and within hours they had police evacuate the camp.

Already broken-hearted at being separated from Maggie, this new severance of family ties was the last straw – Sandy set fire to the wood.

And, when a kindly staff member tried to comfort him with a hug, he ran away.

At 12 he was moved to St Margaret’s home in Elie, which was run by paedophile David Murphy – known to the children as ‘Uncle Dave.’

Murphy was later sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in one of the worst sex abuse scandals Scotland has ever known.

Incredibly, although Sandy devotes an entire chapter to St Margaret’s and exposes how sick Murphy would groom his targets, he does not consider him his worst childhood enemy.

“Murphy was a serious predator,” explained Sandy, “but the whole system just stank.

“People may find it hard to believe, but there were people who worried me far more than Murphy.”

A case in point came after he escaped St Margaret’s at the age of 14 and went to work on boats at Aberdeen.

Then I applied for my first job after school my boss got a letter from social work saying I had come from a tinker family and warning them I should not be put in a position of trust.

He handed me the letter and when I read it I was incensed.” During that trip north on a bus, Sandy also opened a shoebox given to him as he left St Margaret’s.

In it were contained years’ worth of letters from his mother – all opened

“It confirmed she had never given up on finding me,” said Sandy.

“She was a smart woman who was more than capable of looking after us. She should have got us back.

Sandy eventually managed to speak to a relative who described how his mother reacted

He said: “Her life was never the same, she just cried and cried and cried.

“She would sit in the County Buildings in Cupar in the hope of finding out where we were and staff would ignore her all day. They were so cruel.”

Sandy added: “It was Fife’s policy to take children under the age of five and the amount of people that lost their bairns, we will probably never know.

“I found every single remaining living member of my family – of 11 siblings, there were two brothers left and four sisters, including Maggie.

“But I’ve met families who still haven’t seen their bairns.

An old lady was finally reunited with her kids only this year.”

Sandy eventually led a ground-breaking court case which opened up the doors for victims of Murphy to claim compensation from Fife Council.

But for all of them, money is no real compensation and for some, none at all.

Sandy said: “I know some people in my situation have turned out very well with their lives – some are now magistrates and lawyers – but they are few and far between.

“Many didn’t. I knew one guy who spent 30 years in London then came back up to Anstruther.

He was a wreck. Murphy had ruined him.” He concluded: “I chose never to be a victim – once you are clear of them your life is your own.”