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Fermanagh child abuse: Like lambs to the slaughter

The PSNI has announced this week that it is reviewing 19 child sex abuse cases in Co Fermanagh. The journalist who broke the story, Rodney Edwards, speaks to some of the victims and finds a trail of shattered lives and missed chances to catch the attackers

Chilling tale: alleged sexual predator David Sullivan
Chilling tale: alleged sexual predator David Sullivan
Journalist Rodney Edwards
Murder scene: police at the bog near Belcoo where the body of 51-year-old former Ulsterbus driver David Sullivan was found in 2000
David Sullivan

By Rodney Edwards

A red dot blinked in the small, dark room inside the rural bungalow outside Fivemiletown. It was a video camera. Emma (not her real name), who was 11-years-old at the time, claims she was then violently raped by three men on the mattress laid out in front of them and believes the sick and depraved attack on her and another young boy was being filmed.

"I remember looking back and could see a red dot blinking, which I now know was a video camera. It was sitting on top of a chest of drawers," she said.

"You first", shouted the man, as he took off her clothes.

She claims she was raped by the men until she passed out, having been sold for sex by her childminder.

Now, as beams of sunshine shine through the window of her house, Emma (24) closes the curtains as quickly as they were opened. She cannot bear to feel the sun on her face.

It brings back distressing memories of when she claims she was sexually abused by up to 15 men in three different homes in Fermanagh less than 20 years previously.

In another vivid memory, she recalls screaming at such a high pitch while being raped that her abuser pressed her head into the bed and almost smothered her to death. She was around eight-years-old.

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Instead of curiously wandering in her little glittery wellingtons, gazing at the sweet glaring sun and getting up to devilment like other children her age, she was allegedly being violently abused by evil men, her innocence being taken away from her... and all instigated by a woman who was supposed to look out for her.

"One of them stripped me and pushed my face down into the bed, then he violently abused me. It was excruciating," Emma recalled.

"I was trying to scream, but my face was in the pillow, his weight was on me. I managed to get one good scream out and he started to push my face harder into the bed and I was not able to breathe."

Emma was, she claims, like a lamb to the slaughter - repeatedly molested by a string of alleged abusers, including some well-known and highly regarded men in the county.

One, she claims, even gave her sweets after he sexually abused her.

She can still smell the body odour and breath of the first man to sexually abuse her when she was aged just four.

She was sent upstairs in the house where she was supposed to be safe and into the master bedroom on the left, taken there by the woman who had been trusted to look after her.

"I was like the lamb to the slaughter," said Emma.

There she would be molested repeatedly as her childminder watched from the doorway.

Frequently, she was given sweets by her childminder afterwards, or jam sandwiches, almost like a sick treat.

"Sometimes, when the abuse was going on, I would focus on the lamp, or the swirling detail on the ceiling. I used to see if there were shapes on them, like cloud-watching, to take my mind off it.

"Then I was given sweets," she said.

The smell of cow manure was overwhelming each time another alleged abuser visited the house.

"No wonder why I detest that smell," said Emma. "He'd come in wearing wellies. He used to kiss her (the childminder) on the lips, then abuse me."

She was abused and raped in the same room.

"There was a smell and, as he was raping me, I remember looking over at the lamp and focusing on that.

"There was a clock in the lamp which had pink flowers in it, the lampshade itself had glass panels in it, I remember looking at it."

When it was over, he got up, put his wellies back on and walked out.

Emma first told her family about the abuse when she was 17 and later began initial conversations with police.

She told DUP peer Lord (Maurice) Morrow, a former Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA, who presented officers with a dossier of information more than two years ago, plus photographs and names of the alleged abusers and ringleader.

Nobody has been arrested, charged or convicted for their part in this suspected paedophile ring. That could soon change, when Emma makes a formal statement to police.

She is one of about 20 people who has so far come forward to Enniskillen-based newspaper The Impartial Reporter with allegations of historic child sex abuse.

As a result, the PSNI has set up a specialist team of detectives and this week confirmed it is reviewing 19 sex abuse cases in Fermanagh - so far - as a result of the newspaper investigation.

The claims centre around a range of alleged abusers in different towns and villages in Fermanagh, with allegations of paedophile rings, abuse within families and assaults by prominent businessmen.

The common denominator in many of these cases is there have been no convictions as a result of a lack of evidence, or apparent inaction by police.

A woman whose life spiralled out of control after she was repeatedly raped by her brother has also recalled the horrifying moment she discovered her son was also abused by the same man.

Karen (not her real name) claims she was only 11-years-old when her older brother began sexually abusing her in the bedroom he shared with his other siblings in the family home just outside Enniskillen. She claims she knows of up to nine other victims of the same man and says that both she and her son reported the abuse to the PSNI in 2013 and 2014, but both cases were dropped due to "insufficient evidence".

Karen, now 50, with children of her own, cuts a lonely figure. She suffers from mental and physical illness; the pain of what she experienced is still etched on her face.

She recalls when it first started, where it took place, she even remembers the colour of the bedsheets. Brown. Everything was brown almost 40 years ago. Her brother, then 15, slept in a double bed with his sibling.

"I can still see the big room, the double bed, the single bed. I can remember the brown bedspread, brown blankets, the walls were papered, but there was one wall that had gloss paint. There was one window with brown curtains and a net curtain. The carpet was brown as well. And then it all started. I was 11 when my brother called me into his bedroom to give me a cigarette. He asked me to touch him."

Meanwhile, sitting in a darkened room peering out of the window in a rural village outside Enniskillen, Michael (not his real name) looks lost.

In his early-20s he was a successful businessman, who rented videos to the public and was an active member of the community with an ever-growing social circle and a zest for life and a love of sport.

That was until one night in early 1998 when his world collapsed around him after he unwittingly became the latest victim of alleged sexual predator and former Ulsterbus driver David Sullivan, who, it is claimed, drugged him, raped him and got away with it.

Over 20 years later and Michael, now 48, hasn't been the same since. He suffers from serious mental health issues, needs round-the-clock care and has recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

His sister, Jackie (not her real name), has waited two decades to tell her family's story, revealing how evil Sullivan drugged and sexually abused her brother in his Enniskillen flat and got away with it after police advised the family "not to pursue it".

"We know Michael was sexually abused by Sullivan, given what we soon learned. The police did not wish to push the case, telling my dad to drop it and not to pursue it," she claimed.

"If police had acted on this at the time, they would have had to bring David Sullivan in, as he was still alive at this stage and they could have found out what he was involved in, or stopped him from abusing again."

In a recent case to emerge, it is claimed Sullivan took a 15-year-old child to his Lisbellaw flat, where he forced him to watch pornography before sexually abusing him.

"He touched me and stuff. He abused me, he did. It went on for a long time, it felt like forever. He was a sick, sick individual," said Peter (not his real name).

Sullivan was frequently spotted driving in search for his next innocent victim. And he got away with it again and again.

Colin (not his real name) recalled hitching for a lift along the Sligo Road in Enniskillen in 1996 when the suspected predator offered to take him to his home in Garrison.

"It wasn't long before the conversation turned to sex, or his lack of, and while I was a bit uncomfortable with the subject, I was appreciative of the lift and could grin and bear it."

Sullivan, who at this stage was dying of Parkinson's Disease, asked Colin if he could take his braces down as they "were tight and bothering him".

"The conversation stayed in the gutter; his girlfriend wouldn't have sex with him. He also started to touch himself and kept apologising, saying it was his disease that made his groin itchy."

By the time the pair got to Belcoo, Sullivan was driving slower and as they approached a viewpoint after Corralea Activity Centre overlooking Lough MacNean he chillingly turned the car off the road.

"He said he was tired and wanted to rest a minute. He asked me if I wanted to lay back in the seat and close my eyes for a bit, that he could put my seat back and we'd be back on the road soon."

But that was it for Colin, telling Sullivan that he needed to get home or his parents would come and look for him.

"This news helped David recover from his drowsiness very quickly and he practically sped the whole way to Garrison, dropped me off in the village, and speeding off towards Belleek."

Colin was one of the lucky ones.

Sullivan was 51 when he was murdered and found buried in a bog near Belcoo in 2000. Nobody has ever been convicted of his murder.

The PSNI has repeatedly refused to reveal what it knew about the litany of abuse Sullivan carried out before his brutal murder.

However, Detective Superintendent Anne Marks told BBC News NI last week that detectives were aware of two cases reported before Sullivan's death "that would suggest that he did abuse children".

Seven of the cases currently being reviewed by detectives relate to Sullivan who it is alleged abused many children in his homes in Fermanagh, in the car he prowled the roads for young victims in and on board the bus he drove to and from local schools.

Sullivan, like so many other people within positions of trust it would appear, stole the innocence of children in a county that is famed for its tranquility.

But deep beneath those picturesque shores lies a dirty past that is slowly but surely being unearthed in an uncomfortable but important move.

Exposing wrongdoing and seeking the truth isn't just our job, it is our duty, especially when it occurs in our own backyard.

We must always comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, for that is what being a journalist is all about.

Rodney Edwards is deputy editor of The Impartial Reporter newspaper in Enniskillen. He can be contacted at redwards@impartialreporter.com

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