As the bell for lunch time sounded I dashed out of the classroom. ‘Last one to the playground is a rotten egg,’ one of my classmates squealed, as we raced outside. I knew I shouldn’t have joined them, but I didn’t think it would do any harm – just this once.
But when I got home that evening my mum, Eunice Spry, cornered me. ‘Victoria, did you play with anyone at school today?’ she spat. ‘No,’ I fibbed, keeping my head down. She shot me a disapproving look and shrieked: ‘Don’t lie to me. I saw you with the other children.’
My heart dropped. I had been caught out. ‘I have a magic eye,’ she snapped. ‘I see everything.’ As she lashed out at me I cowered. I was only four years old, but that didn’t stop her from laying blow after blow on me – beating me to a pulp.
I had no idea how mum knew I had been socialising – completely unaware she had pulled up in her car earlier in the day and peered through the fence, watching my every move. But the walloping was all I needed not to play with anyone again. After that I did as I was told, terrified that if I stepped a foot out of place I would get a pummelling. I stopping taking part in games and activities and started to only speak when I was spoken to. At school staff picked up that something was wrong. The dinner ladies noticed I wasn’t being fed lunch like the rest of the children after I tried to pinch food from the other pupils’ lunchboxes.
To avoid anyone interfering and finding out how she really treated me mum instructed me to come home at lunch. I did as she said and made my way back to our house up the road on my break. But mum wasn’t there, so I headed back to school. ‘There was no one home, I haven’t eaten,’ I innocently told my teacher. She kindly made sure I had a school dinner. But at the end of the day she spoke to mum.
‘You shouldn’t have said anything,’ mum shouted later that evening. Behind closed doors she walloped me. The smack of her palm stung my skin and red marks appeared straight away. Then she prised her hands into my lips, pushing until my teeth cut into them. Defenceless, I sobbed.
But mum didn’t stop there, she grabbed hold of me and threw me down the stairs. I cried out in agony in a heap at the bottom. It wasn’t long before mum pulled me out of classes completely in the guise of ‘home-schooling’. But she never taught me a thing. Instead I became her personal slave – cooking, cleaning and doing all of the washing. With rabbits, ducks, geese, chickens, cats and a dog, I had the animals to look after too.
Eunice was my adoptive mum. She had taken me in when I was 18 months old after my birth parents were no longer able to look after me. I wasn’t alone in my suffering. Our house was full of children. Mum had two biological daughters, but their dad was no longer around. She then adopted another girl, Charlotte, just the year before me. And she also took in three foster children – two boys and a girl.
I was a traumatised toddler when I first arrived. I hadn’t ever been around other kids. I struggled to adapt and was slow to develop. Instead of nurturing me with love and patience, mum lost her temper and flew off the rails on a daily basis.
I don’t remember the first time she abused me – I was too young – but it happened when I was around two years old. One of mum’s natural daughters told me when I was older that the first memory she had was of me being held down.
I didn’t want to come off milk, but my mum insisted, saying: ‘She should be on solids by now’. Mum pinned me down. She prised my teeth open with a metal spoon. Blood poured down my face. Unsettled and struggling to adjust to my new home, I continued to wet the bed. Instead of soothing me, mum would rub the damp sheets in my face. She even tied me to the potty.
As I got older the abuse got worse and became more regular. While mum’s offspring attended private school, had ballet lessons and went horse riding, the rest of us suffered in silence. Her favourites – her own children, Charlotte and one of my younger foster brothers – usually escaped her violent outbursts. But she routinely beat, abused and starved my two other foster siblings and I.
‘You’re an inconvenience’, ‘Worthless’, ‘Your parents never wanted you’ – I had it drummed into me. Young and naive, I believed mum’s spiteful comments. She was obsessed with perfection and wanted us to look just like the Von Trapp family on the outside. On the rare occasion we were out in public together, people would often comment on how well behaved we all were. But the truth was we were absolutely terrified of putting a toe out of line for fear of what mum would do to punish us.
Treading on egg shells, she was a ticking time bomb, we would barely move or speak, petrified of getting told of – or worse. No television. No playing. No eating. The rules were strict and if we broke them… ‘Open your mouth,’ mum demanded, before pouring in bleach or squirting lemon washing up liquid down my throat. It was how she disciplined me for doing something she considered wrong. The cleaning products would burn my throat and they made my stomach churn. If I threw up, mum would often force me to eat my own vomit. She would sometimes make us sick if we had too much energy, saying: ‘That’ll teach you.’
Our time was split between a home near Gloucester and a farm house in Eckington, Worcestershire. It had been left to mum in a will by a man mum apparently cared for. The run-down farmhouse was surrounded by trees and away from prying eyes – we called it the ‘torture house’. Mum would pile us into the car and drive to the property.
‘Lie down,’ she would demand as soon as we got there. One of the children would be made to stand on our windpipes to stop us from screaming, and mum whip the soles of our feet with sticks. Gasping for breath, with each whack sent pain searing through my body. But the worst was yet to come. She would then force the sticks down our throats.
I clenched my teeth together to try and stop her from ramming the wood into my mouth. But she managed to prise my jaw open and I would retch as she pulled the branch back out – the taste of wood, blood and saliva swirled in my sore mouth.
Another of mum’s torture techniques involved her ordering us to lean with our backs against the wall for hours on end in an excruciating half-seated position. As our feet slipped forward under the pressure she would whip our toes until they bled.
Then when I was eight, a single chicken nugget went missing from the fridge. ‘Who took it?’ mum screamed, interrogating us all. ‘It wasn’t me,’ I croaked, knowing she wouldn’t believe me – even though I hadn’t seen it. When no one owned up, mum flipped. She grabbed me, stripped me naked and tied me up tightly with a rope. I whimpered as she threw me down with a blindfold over my eyes.
Locked in an upstairs bedroom, my younger brother had been tied up too. We quivered, freezing, for hours on end. Hours turned into days and days into months. We were occasionally given crusts of stale bread and water. When I wet myself on the floor, mum forced me to drink up my own urine. ‘You are weak minded Victoria,’ she would snarl. ‘It’s mind over matter’.
I did what I needed to do to survive. I don’t know how long my brother was there before he was allowed to go, but it was only three months later that one of mum’s biological daughters accidentally stumbled across me. She threatened to go to social services, so to stop her mum released me. I was able to put clothes on and eat again. I breathed a sigh of relief but I knew the calm wouldn’t last.
Mum enjoyed brutally torturing us and she had it in for me in particular. It was a miserable existence. I sometimes dreamt of running away. One day I scribbled down ‘Please be my new mummy’ on a piece of scrap paper. I thought about posting the letter through a neighbour’s letterbox in the hope that someone would rescue me. But I never plucked up the courage to send it. The note didn’t leave the house.
In September 2000, when I was 14, we were given an unheard of treat and taken on a family holiday with our grandmother to Pontins in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. While I was kept indoors with the other foster kids, it gave us a brief break from the constant beatings. ‘This is for you,’ my grandmother said softly, handing me a Barbie doll. My face lit up. I had never owned a toy before and I treasured it.
With so many of us, we had to take two separate cars to drive there and back. On the journey home, I climbed into the car driven by one of mum’s biological daughters. But on the M5 we were involved in a horrific accident. A lorry driver – who was later convicted in court – smashed into the back of the car, while fiddling with his radio. Our vehicle buckled under another lorry ahead.
The crash instantly claimed the lives of mum’s natural daughter, 37, her body was mangled in front of me. While Charlotte, 16, was also decapitated. I was left hanging and pinned, watching my little brother, seven, – who also survived the smash – scream in agony. I broke my neck, I had leg fractures, a broken pelvis, hips, small of my back, both arms, legs, elbows, wrists and had internal injuries too.
After being rushed to hospital I was put in an induced coma for a month. But as soon as I woke up, mum blamed me for the crash. I had just opened my eyes when she held me by the throat in my hospital bed. ‘Tell me what happened,’ she whispered aggressively. ‘We stopped to go to the seaside on the way home,’ I croaked. I was asked if I needed the toilet, but I said I didn’t need to go.’
‘You killed them,’ mum yelled. ‘You didn’t go to the toilet and it’s your fault they’re dead. Why is it that my two precious daughters have died and scum like you still grace this earth?’ she cried. ‘The devil looks after his own his own, that’s why you are still here,’ she told me. I believed her.
While I drifted in and out of sleep, suffering horrific nightmares while I recovered, mum would tell me to ‘shut the f*** up’ as soon as the nurse’s backs were turned.
After the accident, doctors told mum I needed to be in a wheelchair for a few months, while I built up my strength. Back at home, mum turned into even more of a monster. I used my feet to shuffle along the hallways, but after being punished I stopped.
She once pulled me out of the wheelchair by my hair and kicked me around like I was a football. Two years down the line, when I was 16, and still in my chair, I was taken on a trip on a canal boat. My chair was leant up against one of the power buttons and it had accidentally been pressed down on it, until the battery had run flat. Mum went berserk, she grabbed a piece of sandpaper and scoured away at my face. My fragile skin ripped away under the sharp grain of the paper. Thick scabs formed on my face, but if anyone saw my injuries mum would tell them I had eczema.
She forced me to stay in the wheelchair for four years in a cynical bid to maximise the disability living payments she received. Eventually I suffered such terrible muscle wastage I was unable to walk. Every night I was made to crawl from my chair onto the filthy hallway floor to sleep.
I wished I had died in the accident instead and I prayed that somebody would put me out of my misery.
When I was 17, my 12-year-old brother – who was clearly favoured by mum – asked if he could go to Jehovah’s Witness meetings in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. Mum was supposedly a devout worshipper and she allowed him to do as he pleased – but only if I went to watch over him.
For the first time in my life, I met people caring people. They were warm and welcoming. They noticed the horrific bruises and scars that I tried but failed to hide under thick clothes. Mum came under question from the group, but she blamed my injuries on an older step child, telling me to do the same. Eventually though the lies became too much.
I broke down, telling everything to a young couple in the group. Just before Christmas in 2004, after years of relentless abuse at the hands of mum, the pair helped to smuggle me out of the house.
Mum was all I knew, and like the other children, despite it all, I still couldn’t help but feel loyal to her. It took three weeks for me to build up the courage to tell the police, but I bravely reported mum to them. She was arrested and investigating officers scoured her two properties.
They recovered the bloody and splintered sticks she had shoved down our necks, as well as teeth knocked out in the process. Amongst the squalor they found the unposted letters I had written and forgotten about.
At Bristol Crown Court, Judge Simon Darwall-Smith told mum that it was the worst case he had come across in 40 years in law. Eunice Spry, now 70, was jailed for 14 years after a jury found her guilty of 26 charges, ranging from unlawful wounding, cruelty to a person under 16, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation.
Finally free from her clutches, I set about making a fresh start.
I went to college to learn to read and write and enrolled on maths and English classes, before taking up a course in hairdressing. Then I completed a course in childcare and dedicated four years to working in schools, before my ongoing health problems – stemming from the abuse – forced me to give up work.
In spite of the horrors I suffered, I have miraculously flourished and I’m now engaged to my partner of five years. We have two Labradors, Berry and Noah, and have built a life together.
I’m a happy person. My mum didn’t break me. She might have ruined my childhood, but I won’t let her destroy my life. I love to laugh with my friends and to sit in the fields watching my dogs play, whilst I take pictures of the sunset. Every day I wake up, I continue to see the best in people.
But despite my freedom there is still a dark cloud lurking over my future. Not long ago I was contacted by the probation service. They warning me that mum was due to be released in July.
Year after year I was promised that she would be housed in the north of England – far away from me. But now it’s been revealed that she had applied to be housed in Worcestershire – the very next county to Gloucestershire and just 25 miles away from where I’ve built a life for myself.
A probation officer told me that mum has not been interested in anything in prison – she hasn’t taken part in any rehabilitation. She is coming out with the very same mindset she went in with. The officer told me she wasn’t supposed to let me know, but my mother has been paying people to do jobs for her, like tracking people down. They won’t say who, but I think it is me.
Mum has got hold of phones in jail and she can get on social networking sites. I know she is going to come out and play every game in the book and now she might be living just down the road from me. It’s heartbreaking. After all she put me through, I deserve to just feel secure. All I want is to just carry on trying to keep going the best I can. Why do they have to just slap her so close to me?
I asked why and I was told she requested it – the worst thing is it has been granted. If she comes anywhere near me I have friends now who will protect me – I’m not scared of her physically anymore. But I have got on with my life, and knowing she will be so close is awful.
Even now, I see the swish of a ponytail out the corner of my eye when I’m out shopping and it gets my heart racing, thinking it is her. I thought prison would break her, but I’m gravely concerned that it seems she is still playing the system, still controlling people, still getting her way. I wish her no harm, but I don’t want here anywhere near me and I never want to see her again. She is a psychopath and my worry is that being so close, she’ll manage to find out where I am.
Now I’m 28 and waiving my anonymity to speak out for the first time about the daily horrors I endured for 19 years before I managed to escape. I hope that my story encourages other victims of abuse to get find a way out of a bad situation and inspires them. I’m proof that you can turn your whole life around if you want to.
I want to set up my own charity to help abuse victims too and I hope to write a book about my life experiences one day. Mums are supposed to look after their children, to love them unconditionally and protect them from harm. But my mum was the person I needed to be protected from.
In years to come if I am blessed enough to have children of my own I know I will be a great parent. I will give them an endless supply of the one thing I was never shown growing up – love.
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We helped Victoria share her story exclusively with popular women’s magazine That’s Life (who featured the story over two editions), as well as a follow up story in Women’s Own and some national newspapers. We’ve also had a lot of interest from television shows like This Morning. Please share this story to help raise awareness of silent child abuse.