THE breakdown was a long time coming… 43 years to be precise. Yes, that really is a long time to keep a secret and many events along the way could have been my undoing much sooner. So I marvel that it took so long.
Two massive battles with cancer; the loss of most of my right lung and shoulder; the ruination of a much loved career by my own stupidity; the death of my best friend and later my father; divorces and more failed relationships than you care to shake a stick at; bankruptcy; the suicide of a family member; denial of access to two of my children for 10 years; the repossession of my home; discovering my wife was enjoying sex with another man; becoming a single parent at the age of 50 and an unprovoked assault that almost took my life anyway.
Set against that backdrop there is a star-spangled career in journalism with a raft of awards and recognition at the highest level, the chance to meet and talk with some stellar people, five wonderful kids, a host of amazing and loyal friends and finally, the woman who saved me, my darling wife Gill.
These are just snippits of my life so far and more than enough to form the framework of a somewhat gripping autobiography.
But casting a huge shadow over every move I have made, every tear, every relationship, every job and every sick joke was something much more sinister.
Wednesday 12 June 2013 was the day the elastic band finally broke and my life unravelled before my eyes, and those of my darling wife and precious son, who could only watch with me.
It all began in another time and another place…
I was, a young 14-year-old boy standing in darkness in open woodland, with my trousers around my ankles, being sexually abused by a 38-year-old man – a man trusted by my parents to care for me.
It was 1970.
He was the district commissioner for Scouts in my home town and over many months had encouraged me to attend camps, orienteering, patrol leader weekends and wide games to help me ‘get the most out of Scouting’.
I was a bright, gentle and slightly quirky kid who had enjoyed being in the Cubs and Scouts since the age of seven.
But not anymore.
The abuse had begun some months earlier, soon after my 14th birthday, at a so-called winter camping weekend at the Scout-owned woodland campsite – some three miles from my home, and five from the centre of town.
Over the course of 15 months, it had become regular, routine and progressively invasive.
I had been sworn to secrecy by my abuser. After all, I was the one he had caught ‘playing with’ himself and I would be totally humiliated if anyone found out.
I felt dirty and terrified and above all convinced I must be a ‘queer’ (gay) to allow this to happen. But the over-riding feeling was a need to escape this darkness, this nightmare.
I tried all manner of excuses not to attend Scouts and these frequent camps. When eventually my loving parents questioned my ongoing reluctance, I lied that I was being bullied. Their answer was simple: ‘stand up to the bullies’. Followed by: ‘If you leave the Scouts they will know they have beaten you’!
How I wish I had told them the truth. But I was sure my mother would not have believed me and accuse me of exaggerating. Equally, my father was a strong-minded man and I felt he would humiliate me further, if I told him, with jibes about me being a ‘poof’ or something. Sadly in adult hindsight he would probably have hugged me close and physically attacked my abuser had he known.
I don’t blame my parents, they were the most loving and caring I could have wished for. But times were different then and there were many things in life that were taboo.
Anyway, the abuse continued unabated as I turned 15 and as I turned more introspective and aloof to friends.
I was in my abuser’s control and I could not break free.
But I did eventually escape in the June of 1971.
My abuser had arranged a patrol leaders’ meeting at his house on the other side of town. It was a ‘must attend’ gathering.
I had met a lad called Brian from another troop and we had agreed to go together. Brian’s dad would take us there and my dad would pick us both up at 9pm.
We arrived at this spacious bungalow in a quiet middle-class cul-de-sac at about 7pm and were ushered inside by my abuser. Others were arriving and by the time we were all assembled, there were about 10 boys aged between 13 and 15 in the semi-lit dining room.
The meeting was a blur. My mind was already in the dark woods. And in what seemed no time at all, parents were arriving to pick up their kids. Soon just Brian and I remained silently while the clock ticked.
My abuser said he would make a cup of tea for us both and asked if we would like a biscuit too. Brian said ‘Yes’ for both of us.
Then as he walked down the hallway to his kitchen, Brian whispered to me: “Scarper!”
Without hesitation we ran to the front door, fumbled at the latch and tore down the driveway to the cul-de-sac. No sign of my fecking dad! Where the hell was he?
We could hear my abuser call out our names from his front doorway, and we ran as fast and as far away as we could.
We didn’t stop until we reached a red phone box on the outskirts of the town centre, about a mile away. We then stared at each other. At that moment, I knew Brian was a victim too.
Shaking, I rang my home phone number. Mum answered. But before I could say much, she berated me for being ‘so rude’ as to run away from the nice man’s house. She also chastised me for leaving her and my dad terrified for my safety. She told me to stay at the phone box and when dad returned home she would send him out again to pick us up.
He did and when I eventually got home to the safety of my bedroom, I broke down and cried into my pillow all night long.
That night was a watershed for so many reasons.
I had begun to face this demon, by knowing that in Brian I was not alone.
From that day I used every excuse I could find to avoid my abuser and never went back to Scouts or camping again. Even when my own troop leader called at our house to ask if I was okay, I managed to lie and stay safe.
My passion for football and hard school work helped mask the real reasons.
But the events of 1970-71 were just the beginning of the nightmare for me. My abuser’s smirking face and the smell of his stale sweat never leaves me.
I lived and grew through my mid-teens convinced I must be gay to have allowed a man to do the things my abuser did to me. I also lived in terror that either my parents, sisters, or worse still my school friends, would find out and I would become an object of ridicule.
Resultant behaviour patterns started to emerge: a need to control every aspect of my life and the social environment around me, outbursts of vocal anger, walking away from any situation which threatened my control, and as I turned 18, progressively heavy drinking.
The control aspect was – and still is – vital. For without it I feel vulnerable and frightened and unable to function normally. At home my behaviour sometimes borders on OCD.
Once away at university in the far flung environs of Yorkshire I also had a need to prove I was ‘normal’ or straight! Whereas a lot of young men ‘sow their oats’ at uni’, I sowed more than most. I am not proud in any measure, but I bedded as many girls who would say yes as I could, proving to myself I was ‘straight’!
I also needed female company, as a fear of being unsafe and alone was constantly with me. By the time I was 22-years-old I was engaged to a girl who promised to always care for me.
By the age of 24, we were wed. It was a sadly inappropriate marriage of two polar opposites and lasted just eight years. My outbursts of vocal temper, deep introspection and a need to control my own life, plus an affair, did not help!
But I survived my first divorce – and an 18 month battle with cancer – and tried to start over.
In 1990, aged 34, I moved to Scotland and found a geographical escape from my past. It involved burying myself in my job. Often working 16 hour days, prolonged success at work allowed me to control my life at last.
One year after moving north I met a young woman who told me of the sexual abuse she had suffered as a 14-year-old, adding that I was the first person she had confided in. I could not share my abuse with her… but this was an epiphany and I saw a possible way out.
A colleague at work was married to a police officer and I used him to help me lodge a formal complaint against my abuser via the Inspector at the local police station. He, in turn, passed on the complaint to the police force in the area of southern England where I had lived as a young teenager.
It was November 1991.
I waited in trepidation, wondering what might happen next and preparing to come clean with my parents if a court case was involved.
Two weeks passed before I was asked to attend the local police station to talk with the Inspector again. He invited me into an interview room at the back of the station, where he told me something I was not ready for… my abuser was dead!
I walked zombie-like back to my office, barely able to talk with anybody.
How could my abuser be dead! How could he not face justice for what he had done? How could I carry on?
The anger inside me was immense.
The next few months were hard as I tried to keep a lid on my emotions. But rages came, tears and gloom overwhelmed and eventually in the summer of 1992, I walked out and left that part of Scotland for good.
The next 20 years were much like the previous 20 with black moods, multiple broken relationships and a growing need to drink to forget.
Only success at work allowed me to be my real self.
By 2003 I recognised I was fast becoming an alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous was a refuge and it allowed me to share my past in confidence with complete strangers.
But life happens and the sudden need to care as a single parent for my youngest child reinforced the desire to take control of life and at last start to live it with purpose as a sober dad.
In January 2006 I moved to Wales to begin again, both at work and at home.
Work had a purpose as I edited a small but successful weekly newspaper. I had already edited other similar local papers years earlier and had twice taken them to win newspaper of the year awards. This time it was treading water, but enjoyable all the same and allowed stability for a full seven years.
Stories came and went and along the way and I worked with and befriended some wonderful people. I also wasted no opportunity to expose convicted child sex offenders whenever their cases came to light. Ironically the so-called ‘paedo files’ in North Wales seemed more expansive than anywhere else I had lived or worked. It was like unsolicited cathartic therapy.
My empathy with the victims was immense. But still I could not share what remained buried for so long.
Last year fate suddenly dealt me straight and I met my soul mate and now my darling wife. I shared everything with her and I found love and stability for the first time since I turned 14. Life was starting to have a meaning.
But just when life breathes fresh air something unexpected takes the breath away and leaves it stale.
Four months ago that something happened and sent my life into a complete tailspin. And to mix metaphors, the tailspin became a train crash.
While researching on-line for more information about a North Wales’ child sex abuse case we were carrying in the paper, I decided to look for any lasting details about my own abuser.
It didn’t take long and the moment will stay with me forever.
I discovered that my abuser was indeed dead. But he had died in 1996, aged 64… some five years AFTER the police told me he was already dead! I double and triple checked my facts.
I still cannot comprehend what happened.
Had the police in 1991 cocked up? Had they identified the wrong man? Or worse still was it a conspiracy to protect someone of importance in the local community? I guess I will never know, but I had been denied the justice and closure I had wanted all those years earlier.
The rages and tears came again as I struggled to take back control.
Work was corrosive and I felt undermined at every turn by junior bosses whose experience did not hold a candle to my own. I felt managed out of my job and was losing control of my own newspaper and my life.
On Wednesday 12 June 2013 I walked into my office to find that one of these junior charge hands had changed my front page – after I had gone to press – without any reference to me. I flipped and with it my whole life lay on its back kicking into a nothingness.
But now as I write this I am, for the very first time, receiving professional help to deal with my demon. And it is my abuser who is the demon, not some bungling police officer.
The demon will never go away, but I have a loving wife, a courageous and wonderful mother, a gorgeous youngest son and some amazing close friends, who all now know of my dark secret. And by sharing with them, I am slowly losing the need to control my life. It is liberating. I am recovering.
And it is for them that I need to live and share my inner self. The abuser has not won… I am fighting back.
This blog is the means to that end.