Davy Tweed’s daughters’ accounts of living with the paedophile and the pain he caused should be treated with compassion by those in positions of responsibility
Davy Tweed, the man who threw rugby balls for a living, was also accomplished at throwing some of his children around when he felt like it.
“I was under his fist quite a few times,” his daughter Catherine told Sunday World journalist Nicola Tallant. “I remember one day... he was hitting my head off a radiator... he physically threw me to the ground.”
This 6ft 6in malevolent presence in the home was also a child sexual abuser. He was so adept at perpetration that for years none of the children knew each of them was being sexually assaulted.
In 2009, his then wife Margaret ended the relationship when allegations first surfaced. A victim of physical abuse herself, she was sometimes hauled into the children’s bedroom by her hair after a beating and forced to tell them it was her fault.
A pillar of the Ballymoney community in which he lived, the 61-year-old former rugby international, politician and railway worker died in a motorcycle accident on October 28. Some of his family are grieving. For others, specifically his daughters, who have now waived anonymity, his passing brings only relief.
“I just feel peace knowing that nobody else is going to be harmed by his hands,” his stepdaughter Amanda Brown said last week.
“He’d terrify me to a point where when I’d scream no noise would come out,” wrote Lorraine Tweed in the Sunday World.
Another daughter, Victoria, stated: “Having that fear of this big dark shadow coming into your room and sexually abusing you... To know that he was holding me as a baby and knowing that he was going to hurt me, I still can’t fathom it to this day.”
Little girls living with a father who should have protected them and made them feel safe were instead frightened out of their wits in the family home.
Stop for a second and imagine the fear an eight-year-old feels when faced with the terror of father-turned-monster in her bed. Now picture the teenager, the adult, mentally processing that daily violation. Abuse is insidious, so much so that even when it eventually ends, the psychological havoc continues.
In life Tweed was a master manipulator, as most abusers are. He crafted for himself such a cloak of respectability among his community that even with abuse rumours, and convictions for drink-driving and assaults in bars, he could command regard.
He was convicted of 13 counts of child abuse in 2012. Four years into a custodial sentence, the verdict was set aside due to how “bad character” was introduced in the original trial. The Ballymoney community split — those who backed Tweed, and those who hated him for his actions. Caught in the crossfire were the people he had hurt most. “Lying bitches,” spat one supporter in the court’s public gallery.
In death his coffin was carried by men wearing Orange Order collarettes. Here was a “well-known Ulsterman”, “larger than life”, and leading politicians Jim Allister, Ian Paisley Jr and Mervyn Storey offered condolences to his family on his passing.
The extent of his abuse became publicly apparent in all its searing detail days afterwards, when his daughters spoke powerfully and eloquently, correcting the record.
In possibly the most succinct phrase to describe the public and private Davy Tweed, his step-daughter Amanda described him on BBC’s Talkback as: “Street angel, house devil.” To have what felt like “half of the country” supporting him, as she also stated, compounded that devastation.
“Other than the abuse itself, there is nothing worse — nothing — like the feeling of not being believed, or that others are dismissive of your pain. That you don’t matter to them.”
All of these politicians must have been aware of the nature of previous allegations against him. And yet it has taken almost a month for any apology to be offered to those whom Davy Tweed abused.
By far the most disappointing in this whole episode, was the way in which Allister handled the situation. A friend and former neighbour of Davy Tweed’s sister, it was understandable he would wish to offer condolences to those in the family devastated by his death, yet in doing so it was inevitable that this would cause distress to Tweed’s victims.
A former barrister, Allister is meticulous when it comes to legal definitions. His assertion that Tweed’s convictions were set aside on appeal was accurate. But sometimes brilliant legal minds, as he undoubtedly is, need to divorce themselves from looking at the world through a lawyer’s lens, and summon empathy.
He will know there are plenty of people to whom the law has been favourable, who have perpetrated gross harm. His response to criticism was defensive, and should have been handled much better.
He could have immediately acknowledged that Tweed had caused hurt, while simultaneously expressing sympathy with those grieving. Blindsided by a BBC doorstep last Tuesday, his tone was shocking to listen to. Tweed’s victims were justifiably hurt. He apologised to them on Wednesday.
Allister has previously fought for institutional and clerical abuse victims, which was why it was so distressing to watch these events unfold.
He was also a huge help to me, for which I will always be grateful. Others compared his treatment of me with Tweed’s daughters, and my name was flung around the internet last week, ironically mostly by those who ignored republican failings on kindred issues and had more interest in point scoring than standing with victims.
Upset, and having previously called for apologies to the women, I tweeted: “This case has nothing to do with me.” And yet, every abuse victim’s experience will trigger something within. A memory, a feeling of powerlessness, sadness for what is lost, what cannot be undone.
A kindred connection — soul pain, where time freezes, as you relive through another’s experience what has been taken from you. Fear of spiralling into that place again, where your very identity as a person becomes wrapped in the horrific actions of someone else, and not wishing to be defined by it.
And so, reminders, thoughtlessly cast into cyberspace, though heartfelt in my core, compel me to write. Playing ‘whatabout’ with victims’ hurt is disgraceful — but it doesn’t negate valid criticisms raised.
It should not be underestimated how difficult it is for Tweed’s victims to speak publicly, to relive the horror. They deserve to be treated with respect by people in positions of responsibility. Every victim does.
Perhaps, with recent apologies offered to them, that lesson has now been learned. It should be.