My little girl spends hours trying to wash away the memory of what he did
Evening Standard | 12 Oct 1994
ON CHRISTMAS Day last year 10-year-old Elizabeth was sexually assaulted by a family friend. Her assailant, Barry, 50, was convicted after a week-long case which ended on 30 September. He’s now on bail, awaiting sentencing on 21 October. Elizabeth, meanwhile, cries inconsolably in her bedroom with the Phil Collins poster; often she won’t sleep in her own bed or close her eyes all night. She has an IQ of 168, but recently flunked her exams. She goes to the lavatory 50 times a day and, at night, walks along the corridor in her flannel pyjamas, clutching her soft toy rabbit, and spends three hours in the bathroom. Her father thinks she’s trying to wash away her dirty feelings.View transcript
ON CHRISTMAS Day last year 10-year-old Elizabeth was sexually assaulted by a family friend. Her assailant, Barry, 50, was convicted after a week-long case which ended on 30 September. He’s now on bail, awaiting sentencing on 21 October. Elizabeth, meanwhile, cries inconsolably in her bedroom with the Phil Collins poster; often she won’t sleep in her own bed or close her eyes all night. She has an IQ of 168, but recently flunked her exams. She goes to the lavatory 50 times a day and, at night, walks along the corridor in her flannel pyjamas, clutching her soft toy rabbit, and spends three hours in the bathroom. Her father thinks she’s trying to wash away her dirty feelings.
Her father, Malcolm (all names have been changed), who lives on his invalidity pension, is sitting in their south London Cartlandesque sitting room – all turquoise and pink with shells on the shelves, a tea cup to mark his silver wedding anniversary to Constance, fluffy candyfloss carpet and fairy lights twinkling in the buds of the pink silk chrysanthemums. Any minute now you expect to see Father Christmas.
Instead, Malcolm, in jeans and T-shirt, with a face that betrays months of anguish, speaks in the clipped voice of restrained anger. He talks of the horror of the day his only child was molested. He’s angry and lashes out about the ‘awful’ counselling they’ve all received, the ‘terrible court ordeal’ for his child and the strain on his marriage.
ELIZABETH is special to her parents who thought they couldn’t conceive. She is also a gifted child. ‘By just 14 months she knew all her colours, not just red, white and blue, but aquamarine, turquoise and khaki. At 19 months she had learned the alphabet and, shortly afterwards, started reading newspapers. She’d say things like, ‘Oh look, Margaret Thatcher is on the front page’.’ Elizabeth was nationally acclaimed.
Last Christmas the family stayed with Barry’s family. They’d become friends after meeting in Spain when Elizabeth was a year old and Malcolm was recuperating from breaking his back. ‘Barry had two children by his first marriage and seemed funny and charming,” remembers Malcolm.
On Christmas Day, the families played party games. Then Elizabeth accompanied Barry to look at his computer. ‘When I went upstairs shortly afterwards,’ says Malcolm, ‘her mother said, ‘Tell Daddy what you’ve just told me’. Elizabeth told how Barry had played with her private parts. He’d pulled down her knickers and tights, kissed her on the neck and made her sit on his lap. He wasn’t drunk and it lasted a few minutes. All while we were in the next room.’ Malcolm’s voice rises.
Malcolm, in his confusion, decided he didn’t want to upset Barry’s family and would speak to him quietly next morning. In addition, Malcolm was mugged savagely five years ago and has difficulty driving at night. He rationalised that he couldn’t leave until daylight.
Next morning Constance confronted Barry. ‘She told him he’d sexually molested our child. He didn’t deny it and said, ‘Let’s talk about it after Christmas’.’ Malcolm and Constance then approached the Child Protection Unit (CPU). ‘They advised us, initially, to let Elizabeth get over it. She was taking exams. But she completely freaked, and did nothing but cry.’ On 14 January the CPU took statements. ‘The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) thought there wasn’t a case, because of lack of evidence (although the police fought for it). Then they saw the video that Elizabeth had made in the CPU. A St Mary’s Hospital paediatrician advised that a medical examination would create further trauma, so she didn’t have one.” Barry was arrested in March and bailed. The night before the court case, Elizabeth said: ‘It’s dark outside, Daddy, I want to go out there and tell you something.” She told him how she’d been digitally penetrated. ‘She didn’t say that on video in front of the police officers, a man and a woman. She was too scared and embarrassed.”
Elizabeth, once an outgoing child, has become disturbed and clingy. “But we can’t cuddle her now. She pushes us away.’
AND the events of the past few months have tested her parents’ marriage. ‘You scream at each other, have sleepless nights and can’t see justice being done. Your daughter is up every two minutes to the loo and your wife is blaming you for not smacking that man on the nose.’
On police advice the family had counselling. ‘Elizabeth wasn’t allowed to talk about the incident because then they could have said we’d manipulated her. It’s been useless for us too. One night Elizabeth was sobbing until 5am and we called Childline who suggested we give her a sedative. When we told the counsellor, she said, ‘Why on earth did you ring them?” In court, standard procedures were followed. ‘I never want it to happen to another family and, please God, not to us again. She was taken early in the morning so we couldn’t talk to her, and put in a separate room. What my child had to endure for a day under cross-examination and video evidence was horrendous. We were told the defence would be lenient, but it wasn’t. The woman barrister put Elizabeth through the ordeal of saying it had never happened.’
Malcolm complained to Sir Thomas Bingham, Master of the Rolls, who acknowledged the distress to which victims are subjected. ‘But it is essential,’ he wrote, ‘that a defendant should have a fair opportunity to advance any defence he may have, within the limits of propriety.’ On 30 September, Barry was convicted and bailed. ‘We feel dreadful,’ says Malcolm. ‘The police had told us the judge would almost certainly have passed a custodial sentence for reports and that Barry would be put in prison awaiting sentence.’
So what does Malcolm want to happen to Barry? ‘The judge,’ wrote Sir Thomas, ‘will face a difficult task in deciding on the correct sentence and you may feel that it is not as severe as you would wish.’