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'I remember being in bed and him creeping into the room, getting in beside me'

Sex offender’s victim recalls ordeal that began when she was just eight

By Claire McNeilly

A victim of a sex offender has spoken about her horrifying ordeal for the first time after her abuser was spared jail.

The woman - who we have called 'Karen' to protect her identity - lunged at her attacker outside the courtroom at Belfast Crown Court yesterday shortly after he was handed a three-year prison sentence that was suspended for three years.

Read More: Belfast child abuser spared jail due to 'exceptional circumstances'

Karen, who apologised for her behaviour outside the court after a security officer intervened, was just eight years old when Catney - who requires the use of a walking aid - began a campaign of sexual offences that left her with a catalogue of nauseating memories; all horrendous, but some more vivid than others.

Now in her 30s, the single mother said she was breaking her silence to stop the "dreadful crimes" committed by 67-year-old James Thomas Catney "from being brushed under the carpet".

Catney, with an address in south Belfast, was placed on the sex offenders register for life and also made the subject of a Sexual Offenders Prevention Order.

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the victim said she still suffers nightmares as a result of the abuse which robbed her of her childhood.

"When I close my eyes it all comes back," she said.

"I can't remember dates. I was so young. I just remember being in bed and him creeping into the room and getting in beside me.

"It was horrible."

"He was stinking of alcohol. He just got into the bed and started touching me. He was disgusting," she said.

"One night it was late and I was asleep when he came into my room and woke me up.

"He told me not to say anything - that it was our secret - so I didn't. That's why I kept it to myself for so long."

It was impossible for Karen to know when he would strike or how long the assaults - which she said took place in four different places of residence - would last.

"Sometimes it went on for half an hour, or it might only be 10 minutes," she said. "If he heard somebody coming down the hall he would stop. But he just took every opportunity he got."

Karen didn't tell her mother what was happening to her between the ages of eight and 11 because Catney, whom the court heard suffered alcohol addiction, had warned her she would get into trouble.

"I remember it happened one Christmas morning - the year I got the doll's house - when he was in the living room lying across the sofa," she recalled.

"I had come in and he kept calling me over."

Catney then sexually abused Karen, who was aged only eight at the time.

Eventually, after three years, Karen found the courage to confide in a neighbour and "it all came out then" because her mother was informed about what was happening. "I had had enough by then but I wouldn't have told if my mummy hadn't found out," she said.

Karen admitted that the ordeal, which lasted from December 31, 1990, until January 1, 1994, has had a negative impact on her private life over the years, including the breakdown of a long-term relationship.

"When I told my partner - my children's father - what had happened to me, neither of us could deal with it and we split up seven years ago," she said.

"After we broke up I went off the rails, drinking and partying."

Yesterday Karen - who said she wanted to be in court during sentencing - watched as Catney appeared in front of Judge Geoffrey Miller QC, dressed in a black suit and navy shirt.

"At least he finally acknowledged what he did," she said. "But he didn't admit anything until the last minute a few weeks ago."

Although judges are bound by sentencing guidelines, Karen feels Catney was dealt with leniently. "I didn't expect him to get a lot of time because of his health concerns but I'm angry. To me, he's getting off too lightly," she said.

By speaking out, Karen said she hopes her story will encourage other people who have found themselves in a similar situation to come forward.

"It has affected my life as a mother," she said. "I wouldn't let my children sleep over anywhere and there's hardly ever anyone staying overnight in our house unless it's family.

"It takes over your head. It had been brushed under the carpet for too long but yesterday has finalised it. I have drawn a line in the sand and I'm going to try and not let it affect me any more. Today is the start of a new chapter."

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