‘Arrrghhh,’ my daughter, Cathy*, shrieked, as a sharp pain surged through her. Huffing and puffing, she was in labour and pushing with all her might. ‘You can do it, keep going,’ I soothed, as she squeezed my hand tightly. ‘The baby’s almost here,’ the midwife told us. ‘Just one more push.’ I moved towards the end of the bed, ready to help with the delivery.
‘It’s a boy!’ I cried, as he arrived and let out a little wail. ‘Do you want to cut the umbilical cord?’ the midwife asked me. I nodded, tears welling in my eyes. This was such a precious moment and I was honoured Cathy had let me be a part of it as her birthing partner. Soon after, she and the baby were discharged from hospital.
As we got ready to leave the maternity unit, I scooped the baby out of his cradle and said: ‘Do you want to carry him?’ ‘No, mum, you take him,’ Cathy insisted. ‘He’s yours now.’ It was the most wonderful gift I could ever have received. At first, when Cathy had told me she was pregnant I was horrified.
She was only 17 and not in a stable relationship or ready for the responsibilities that came with parenthood. ‘Look, I don’t want this child,’ she screamed at me hysterically. Devastated, I begged her to keep it. ‘Let me raise it,’ I pleaded. ‘If you hand the baby to me, I promise you the child will be well looked after.’
Cathy refused, adamant she was having an abortion, but eventually she came around to the idea. I’d been to every scan with her and bought a Moses basket, pushchair and baby grows ready for the new addition. But when he was born I didn’t want to tread on her toes. I let Cathy feed him and change his nappy, just in case they bonded and changed her mind.
Now I knew she was set on going through with the adoption, the baby was officially signed over to me. Together, we decided to name him Damien*. Sleepless nights, non-stop crying and temper tantrums – none of it phased me. Damien was usually a happy little chap.
I was already mum to seven children and treating Damien as if he was my own came naturally. When he uttered his first word – ‘mum’ – my heart swelled with pride. But as he grew, I started to notice he wasn’t developing at the pace my other children had. ‘There’s something not quite right with him,’ I said to my husband John*, 49.
Damien would crawl everywhere. He couldn’t walk at all and if he tried to stand on feet he would topple over. The only words he could say were mum, tractor and yellow. When I expressed my concerns the GP, he just said: ‘Maybe he’s slightly slower than others his age, but he will probably catch up next month.’
But I wouldn’t give up and eventually we were referred to a occupational therapist when Damien was one. ‘I have a feeling it could be Spina Bifida,’ she warned me. I burst into tears, before telling myself: ‘It’s ok, I can deal with that.’ They did tests, but the results came back normal, so we went to a different hospital for a second opinion. There Damien was diagnosed with Metachromatic Leukodystrophy – an extremely rare genetic disorder.
‘Why him?’ I thought to myself. It seemed so unfair. Stunned, I didn’t take in a word the consultant said at the appointment. I left in a daze and when I got home I called the hospital again and asked: ‘What is the condition? What does it mean?’ The consultant told me: ‘I can’t explain it over the phone.’ I asked question after question, but she told me I had to come in, that’s when I knew it must be bad.
‘I’m going to make it easy for you,’ I said, frustrated. ‘Tell me how long he’s got left.’ She wouldn’t give definitive answer, but I knew outlook wasn’t good. When we were told of Damien’s life expectancy, we were heartbroken. They estimated he would survive until he was two. I asked why this had happened and why the medics had never heard of it before. They told me it was very, very rare.
When I later looked it up online and found it usually happened in foreign countries. ‘Wait until I get my hands on Cathy’s ex,’ I raged. ‘I’m going to kill him.’
I blamed her ex-boyfriend – whoever he was – for giving the poor child a death sentence. She never told us who Damien’s dad was. I guess she wouldn’t have known there were any health problems in his family’s history.
Thankfully Damien surpassed doctor’s expectations. Each time he reached the point they said he would pass away they gave him another year to live and then another when he reached that. We cherished every second with him. Cathy wasn’t always around and when she was she and Damien were more like brother and sister. She would often go and visit her own biological father, Alan Curragh, 49, – or Herbie as he was known to everyone – or he would call around to her house.
I had split with Herbie years before. Our relationship had been volatile. Herbie had a short-temper and would regularly become aggressive and violent.
He’d flip over the smallest of things. At tea time if his potato was too lumpy, or there were too many peas on his plate, he’d take it out on me. I was often beaten black and blue and left covered from head to toe in bruises.
‘I wish you wouldn’t spend so much time with your dad,’ I told Cathy, concerned. But Herbie appeared to have an almost unnatural hold on her and she would come back with gifts he had given her, to coax her to spend time with him. By now, Cathy was old enough to do as she pleased.
She had moved out and was living in a place of her own. She could come and go whenever she wanted. Her older sister, Emma, 31, was just as worried as me – and for good reason too… Emma was 14, when she came home one evening, just after I had split with Herbie – her stepdad.
I had Emma and her younger brother before I met Herbie, but he was the only father figure in their lives. I always thought he was great with them. He’d look after them while I was at work. They would play games and he would put them to bed them. But it was Emma’s revelation that made my stomach churn…
Sat in my living room with one of my friends having a glass of wine, Emma walked in and said: ‘Mum, there’s something I need to tell you.’ ‘What is it?’ I asked.
‘Herbie has been touching me where I don’t like it,’ she blurted out. ‘Are you serious?’ I cried. I had alcohol in my system, but I was so angry I grabbed my car keys off the side and drove towards his flat. As I careered around the corner and on to his road, I lost control and crashed into a parked vehicle, flipping my car on to its roof.
Luckily there was no one in it and I wasn’t injured either, but I was arrested. I knew there were no excuses for driving under the influence, but I tried to explain the circumstances to the police. Herbie was swanning around, free to live his life as he chose to. After what he’d done to Emma I vowed to get justice. When I saw him in the street I was fuming.
‘I will get you back for what you’ve done,’ I spat at him. But he just laughed it off, which only made my blood boil more. He had hurt my little girl. Emma had told me I had been out of the house when Herbie first pounced on her. She was just five years old. ‘Do you want to play?’ Herbie had asked her. She smiled, enjoying the attention he lavished on her.
Herbie then picked her up and bounced her up and down on his knee, as she giggled with delight. Then he moved his hands in between her legs. Emma froze.
It was painful, but she was too shocked and frightened to move. Whenever Herbie was alone with her, he would abuse her. He did it while he was driving, while I was at work and even at Emma’s grandparents’ house.
He was right under my nose the whole time and I had no idea. Emma told me he even pulled out a gun, stuck it in her mouth and told her if she ever told anyone he would kill her and then me. Sometimes he’d throw money at her when he was finished. It made me feel sick to the stomach… Emma said she tried to fight back one day, but it was the worst thing she could have done because I paid for it, double, in front of her when Herbie lashed out me.
My poor daughter even ended up scarred because she washed herself in bleach after the abuse and I was completely oblivious. To make matters worse, after finally confessing what had been happening, when she was a teen, Emma couldn’t cope and took an overdose of pills. It was a desperate cry for help. Although we had reported the abuse to the police, I realised Emma was too fragile to pursue the allegations and endure the court process.
I desperately wanted her to seek justice for what Herbie had put her through, but I knew she wasn’t strong enough. Over the years, I tried to keep the rest of the family – especially the children – away from their dad. He was a beast. But he drew them in and I was powerless to stop them from seeing him if they wanted to. ‘You’re old enough to make up your own mind now,’ I said to Cathy. ‘But please be careful. He’s not the man you think he is.’
I prayed his sick abuse had come to an end. Cathy had said things in the past that had worried me, but I could never be sure. She refused to stop seeing him altogether. No matter what I tried to ward her off him, he would always talk her around and worm his way back into her life. But Cathy later confirmed my worst nightmares…
‘Herbie’s been raping me mum,’ she whispered, as she perched on the end of my bed. Shaking with rage, I couldn’t ask her the question whirling in my mind. ‘How long had he been doing this? Was Damien his child?’ ‘Get me the phone,’ I cried. Automatically, I called the police and an officer came around to speak to Cathy. ‘Tell them every last detail,’ I instructed her.
I knew the children – even though they were now young adults – weren’t resilient enough to take Herbie to court. But I felt if I could be strong and brave for the two of them, the truth would find its way out somehow… Only when I told Emma I was planning on going to the police and pressing ahead this time, she turned around and said: ‘I will too, mum.’
‘I’m ready now,’ she told me. We sought legal advice and although there wasn’t enough evidence for me to go ahead with mine, Emma could and vowed to do it for the both of us. Herbie was arrested and in 2011 he was tried for abusing Emma. But the jury failed to reach a verdict after he forced Cathy to take to the stand against her sister in court.
Cathy had had been totally brainwashed by him. She genuinely believed she was in an intimate relationship with Herbie. It was sick. He was supposed to be her dad, not her boyfriend. Diagnosed with Bipolar Psychotic Disorder when she was in her early teens, it was clear he had preyed on her because she was vulnerable.
She was groomed from such a young age to do as she was told by him. She knew no different. He had a hold over her, she didn’t have her own thoughts and wasn’t able to make up her own mind. She did whatever he told her to. When we confronted her after the trial ended in a hung jury, she admitted: ‘He told me what to say, word for word. ‘I agreed because I thought bad things would happen again if I didn’t.’
Rather than being angry, Emma and I felt sorry for Cathy. At the same time we couldn’t help but resent her for causing the case to fall apart. It was clear she was petrified of Herbie. He had told her to say Emma’s allegations were all lies and that we had been sitting at home plotting against him and making it all up. Sobbing, Cathy said: ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to do.’
Emma was then pulled into a room. ‘I’m going to ask you a question and I need you to answer me honestly,’ her barrister warned her. ‘Do you know who Damien’s biological father is?’ ‘No,’ Emma told her, shaking her head. ‘Do you have even an inkling who it might be?’ she asked. ‘I’ve always suspected that he could be Herbie’s. Damien is so similar to him, but I can’t say for sure,’ Emma told her. ‘I just have a horrible feeling I can’t shake off.’
‘That’s all I needed to hear,’ she said, before making a request for DNA testing which was approved by the judge. Until the DNA test, I had never dreamt Damien could be Herbie’s baby, but Emma had got me thinking. Swabs were taken and within four weeks the results came back. A police officer called me, as I was out shopping in B&Q for new tiles, and said: ‘I need you to come home now.’
‘What is it?’ I said, panicking. ‘It’s important, we need to talk to you,’ she told me. I rushed back and they revealed the results of the DNA test. ‘Damien was conceived incestuously – his biological father is Herbie and his biological mother is Cathy,’ the officer said. I collapsed into a heap on the floor, inconsolable.
‘Who does that make me?’ I sobbed. I thought of myself as Damien’s mum, but was I actually his grandmother? Sickened, I couldn’t even bring myself to look at the poor child. ‘It’s not his fault,’ my husband, John, said. ‘He’s just a little boy caught up in the middle of all of this. You can’t blame him.’ I knew he was right.
‘He’s still the same Damien,’ John reassured me. I was determined not to let the results shatter the love I had for Damien. But I couldn’t help but hate Cathy and I told her so. Why had she never told me? She must have known deep down that Herbie was the father or did she not? Then a retrial was ordered.
The judge had realised how manipulated Cathy had been so no perjury charges were brought against her. In time, I realised Cathy was a victim in all of this too. Herbie was the monster. Cathy told me the DNA result made her realise she had to escape him, he had ruined her life. She was finally seeing him for what he was.
At the re-trial, Herbie forced Emma to take to the stand again and relive the years of hell she suffered as a child. He admitted to five charges of indecent assault on Cathy from 1995 to 2006, and two counts of rape between November 2002 and November 2006. This time he was found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in jail – eight years for abusing Emma, and five years, concurrent, for the incest in which Damien was conceived.
He was told that he will serve a further 16 years on top of another eight year prison sentence for abusing and raping daughter Cathy since she was just six years old. Herbie was just like Fritzl – after the infamous Austrian rapist. That’s what Emma and Cathy have nicknamed him. Sadly, Damien, who was six at the time, died from his rare genetic disorder in the same month that the trial ended.
When the judge said in court that he had passed away Herbie didn’t even flinch. We were all devastated beyond words. The sentencing brought some closure to the years of hell Herbie put us all through. But nothing will ever bring back Damien. He destroyed so many lives, but worst of all he gave a sweet, innocent child a death sentence. I hope he rots in hell. Emma said:
‘Plucking up the courage to tell my mum about my stepdad, Herbie, abusing me was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
‘But as I walked through the front door and heard her laughing and joking with her friend, I started to get angry.
‘How could she sit there as happy as Larry, while I was living with what her husband had been doing?
‘I knew I had to tell her and when I finally blurted it out, I watched as she stormed out of the house to confront him.
‘They had only just split up and he was living a few miles away.
‘She was shaking with rage. I’d never seen her so angry or upset.
‘I knew then she couldn’t have had any idea what Herbie had been putting me through over the years.
‘I was only a five when he started abusing me.
‘We went on a mini break to a caravan park as a family.
‘Herbie said to me: ‘I’ll take you to the showers.’
‘At first he just watched me as I cleaned myself, but then he started to touch me.
‘It hurt, but I was too frightened to say or do anything other than what he told me to.
‘I thought it was a one-off and quickly pushed it to the back of my mind.
‘When we got home, Herbie would look after me and my brothers and sisters, while mum went to work.
‘He’d pull me up on to his knee and bounce me up and down.
‘I’d giggle, enjoying his undivided attention.
‘But my delight quickly turned to sheer terror when Herbie gradually moved his hand up between my legs.
‘I winced in pain, too scared to leap of his lap.
‘I was so young that before long Herbie’s sick behaviour became normal to me. I knew no different.
‘Although he wasn’t my real dad, I looked up to him as a father figure. And I thought all daddies treated their little girls in the same way he did to show them they loved them.
‘Whenever Herbie got an opportunity he would abuse me – after school, at the weekends, even at my grandparents house. There was no escaping him.
‘It was only when I got older that I started to realise it was wrong and when he and mum split up I was relieved.
‘Only then I discovered he wasn’t just abusing me – he’d been preying on my younger sister, Cathy, too.
‘Herbie had gone further with Cathy than he had with me – he raped her.
‘She was quieter than me. Diagnosed with bipolar at 13, she was more vulnerable too.
‘At the age of 17, she’d had a little boy and unable to cope, she had given him to our mum to bring up.
‘I started to doubt little Damien’s paternity, now I knew what Herbie had been doing.
‘When I felt strong enough to face Herbie in court, he convinced Cathy to take the stand against me.
‘He had such a hold over her. I knew she had been controlled by him.
‘That trial ended in a hung jury, but my barrister ordered a DNA test to find out who Damien’s biological father was and after that a retrial was ordered.
‘I felt physically sick when the DNA results came back proving Herbie had fathered Cathy’s child.
‘At that stage Cathy finally realised just how manipulated she had been by him. But to make matters worse, poor Damien had genetic problems and was constantly so ill due to being conceived through incest.
‘When Herbie was finally convicted and jailed, Damien passed away.
‘We will never have justice for what he did to us. He destroyed our whole family.
‘Damien was a sweet, innocent boy. He didn’t deserve to die, but because of Herbie his life was over before it had even begun.’
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