THE makers of the blockbuster movie Titanic made amends yesterday for depicting the ship's first officer as a coward who took his own life.

However, the people of Dalbeattie, where William Murdoch is regarded as a local hero, considered the gesture too little, too late.

Mr Scott Neeson, of 20th Century Fox, travelled to the Kirkcudbrightshire town in an attempt to heal wounds caused by the Oscar-laden film.

He apologised and handed over a cheque for #5000 and an inscribed silver tray to the local school which presents an annual William Murdoch Memorial Prize of #4 to the second year pupil with the best academic record.

Mr Neeson, executive vice-president of the film company, said: ''The film was made as entertainment and was not meant to be a factual record and if we have upset Mr Murdoch's family and the people of Dalbeattie, I apologise for that.''

He added: ''We did show the first officer doing his best to get people on the boats and acting like a hero.''

Mr Murdoch, he said was depicted as one of the film's most humane, selfless and sensitively drawn characters - held in high esteem by director James Cameron.

He added: ''I know Dalbeattie well - I have spent some of the best days of my life here and I was aware of the memorial to Mr Murdoch before the film was made.'' But he said nothing would be added to the credits of the film or the video to set the record straight.

Appropriately, yesterday's ceremony took place on the anniversary of the sinking of the White Star Liner with the loss of 1500 lives after hitting an Atlantic iceberg 86 years ago.

Headmistress Linda Kirkwood said after the presentation: ''We appreciate the fact that the film company made this presentation. It is a nice gesture. But it really does not make up for the way Mr Murdoch's memory has been besmirched in the film.''

She added: ''People in Dalbeattie and the rest of Britain know he was a hero. But filmgoers all over the world will see him portrayed as a coward.

''It will be the same when the video comes out. In three or four years people will forget what has been done today to clear William Murdoch's name.''

She said interest from the donation will be used to enhance the school's memorial prize which is awarded annually to the second year pupil with the best academic record and at present stands at #4.

It has been presented ever since 1912 when the 47-year-old first officer was hailed as a hero and a granite plaque erected outside the town hall in his memory.

Official records prove that Mr Murdoch, the bridge officer when the iceberg struck, acted promptly to deal with the emergency and then acted selflessly to help people on to lifeboats. But in the Hollywood version, he is seen accepting a bribe, shooting a passenger and then turning the gun on himself.

The portrayal caused outrage in Dalbeattie and prompted Mr Alasdair Morgan, MP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale to table a House of Commons motion calling on film director James Cameron to apologise to Mr Murdoch's family and the local community. He also wrote to 20th Century Fox asking them to donate to the school memorial fund.

Mr Morgan, who was at yesterday's ceremony, beside the town hall Murdoch memorial plaque, said: ''I am pleased the film company has made this gesture.

''I'm glad for Mr Murdoch's family and the people of Dalbeattie that their local hero is being commemorated in this way.''

Mr Murdoch's nephew, retired engineer Scott Murdoch, 80, of Kippford, near Dalbeattie, was presented with a dinner plate recovered from the wreck of the Titanic.

He said: ''I think the way the film-makers portrayed my uncle is rather stupid. I tried to get them to make changes after I saw the script over a year ago. I cannot completely forgive them. But what they have done today makes it a little easier.''