Belfast Telegraph

Leslie Ross's niece tells how 'monster' uncle abused her as child

By Victoria Leonard

The niece of a Northern Ireland man accused of being a serial killer has waived her right to anonymity to reveal how she was horrifically abused by him as a child.

Academic Dr Deborah (Debbie) Ross, who is 54 and lives in New York state in America, said that from the age of six until around 10 years old she was abused by her uncle, Leslie Ross.

It was after viewing an online story about her uncle being charged with the murders of Michelle Bickerstaff, Margaret Weiss and Lily McKee that Dr Ross contacted the PSNI and made complaints of sexual abuse.

The late stonemason, from Dromore, Co Down, who Dr Ross described as "an absolute monster," had been facing 44 charges of sex abuse at a trial in Newry before he took ill with cancer.

He died in his Newtownards flat on November 8, two days before allegations of sex abuse against him were due to come before a court.

Dr Ross told BBC News NI's Kevin Magee that she hoped her decision would encourage other victims of abuse to speak out.

She said: "He was an absolute monster to have done what he did to me. I was very afraid of him. You were just terrified of him.

"When he moved from grooming me to the more serious abuse, then I became a victim of his aggression.

"His general demeanour was one of a very violent man.

"He used to have a piece of wood that was two (inches) by two with nails sticking out of it.

"You could see that people were afraid of him."

Earlier this month, the PSNI sent a memo to Dr Ross informing her of her uncle's death and of their belief that he would have been convicted had the case continued.

The memo stated: "I am sorry to have to tell you that Leslie Ross was found dead yesterday at 14:05 hrs in his flat at Newtownards.

"There were no suspicious circumstances involved in his death and ... he had been ill over the past number of months.

"I regret that we never did have our day in court. I know in my heart we would have secured a prosecution in this case.

"I just hope that now, you can ...find some sort of closure to this awful chapter."

Dr Ross said she was sexually abused by her uncle between 1969 and 1973, during visits to her grandparents' pub in Castlewellan.

"I went from childhood to a complete loss of innocence with an adult," she added.

"It was put to me that this (abuse) was Uncle Leslie teaching me, that this was something that I needed to know and that he had been assigned to teach me.

"Growing up, I felt as if I came from another planet. I did not consider myself being worth anything.

"I acted out badly and I did not trust any men."

After initially trying to "destroy herself," the mum-of-four decided to "take control" of her life by entering full-time education in her late 30s, graduating from Queen's University with a PhD.

In 2005, she emigrated to the United States where she now works as a senior research scientist, which enabled her to make a "clean break" after the trauma of her abuse.

"As my understanding of the impact of the abuse grew, I felt I needed a fresh start," she explained.

"Moving to the States gave me a clean break."

In March 2015, Leslie Ross was brought before Newry Magistrates' Court for a preliminary hearing, accused of murdering three former girlfriends, but he was eventually cleared of all the murder charges.

In January last year, a jury was directed to acquit Ross of murdering 47-year-old Michelle Bickerstaff in April 2012, after the prosecution offered no further evidence.

Two months later, he went on trial for the murder of Margaret Weiss (50) on August 31, 2007.

However, he was acquitted again, after Mr Justice Burgess directed the jury to find him not guilty.

Ross had also been charged with the murder of a third ex-girlfriend, 52-year-old mother-of-one Lily McKee, in December 2002, but that case did not go to full trial.

"The police came over here to New York to interview me and I made a formal complaint," Dr Ross said, adding that the abuse case had tragically affected her younger sister Karen, who later died.

"My sister had apparently been a victim, but was not strong enough to make the charges, and I believe as a result of all this all coming back into our lives at this much later date, Karen took herself to bed, chose not to eat, and subsequently died."

While Ms Ross is entitled to have her identity protected, she waived that right in the hope of encouraging other victims of abuse to come forward.

"I am disappointed that the court case did not happen and that this did not get a chance to end the way it should have ended," she said.

"But speaking (about it) is the next best thing I can do to encourage people who have suffered this abuse, even if it is historical.

"Do it for yourself, do it for your daughters and granddaughters. Speak up.

"At least he can't do it to anyone else, and that was my main goal."

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