This is an open letter to Devon police. They do not investigate crimes of this nature when more than ten years has lapsed. I’m sharing for information only. Also as a guidance for parents who may have a child who needs you to know.
Long overdue, I’m now fifty years old.
As a Police force you ought to keep some records. I do apologise for taking over forty years before reporting it. There had, at the time, been newspaper articles or warnings of some type. I remember, because our mothers had warned us all not to play in the woods.
I was known to the courts as Samantha Tucker. Born at home on Station Road in Devonport to Maureen Rogers and Paul Tucker. By her account Maureen found it difficult as her sister’s baby had Down’s syndrome. My crying was upsetting the household.
It seemed my parents weren’t suited and became estranged. My mother left me with my father’s sister on my first birthday. My father was in the merchant navy, he had not seen me yet. Maureen never came back for me.
During the divorce proceedings I was awarded to my father. I continued to stay at my Aunt’s house with two cousins, Neil and Nicola, whom I thought were my brother and sister. I left my Aunt’s, when my father remarried and then lived with my father and his new wife. I had a new family and sister, Lisa.
My father then joined the army. He was posted to Tidworth in Wiltshire. I started running away from home whilst living there. I would be verbally, mentally and physically attacked often by my step mother and emotionally tortured by my father. Resources were slim and I was the perfect scapegoat.
I was sickly, spending time in and out of the army hospital. It was very unsuitable. I spent months covered in strange rashes, coughing, and vomiting. I was clumsy, forgetful, continually cold and unable to eat the food put in front of me. My mother found it hard to love me. I had few friends.
It was the mid 1970s. My father was sent out to Ireland and to Germany. He met another woman in Germany. When he returned, mum took Lisa and I back to Plymouth. I was told coldly there was no room for me to stay with my father.
Mum, Lisa and I moved into Barbary Crescent in Plymouth, Devon. Things were normal for a while. I started to have friends and connect with my surroundings. I was doing well at school. I’d been naughty in Tidworth and received the ruler.
I would often play out with the local children. We would roam the local woods and parks. Normal stuff, playing ‘knock out ginger’ and who could do the longest handstand.
You will need the details of the actual sexual assault. He assaulted me and it was painful would obviously not be enough. I will tell you. But perhaps we worry too much about the details. What he did wasn’t interesting.
It was an action which set me apart from society and I would never be able to relate to my surroundings in the same way again. Before him, if I ran real fast my feet would leave the floor and I would fly across the fields.
The sexual assault happened in the Widewell Wood off the old playing park across Beverston Way. I’m pretty sure it was 1978. It was before they built the estate on the other side of the park or around the time, they started construction.
Unfortunately, boredom forced me into the woods that day. My hesitancy, fear and concern brushed aside because I got bored waiting. My companions said they wouldn’t be long. Lisa and Elisa had disappeared into the woods. I wanted to do as I’d been told.
So, I had been left looking into trees. There had been a bigger group of us at first. Wendy and Tracey Kennedy who lived down the road, had gone in first. I’d argued with Elisa and Lisa saying it was okay for them but I got caught disobeying mum I would get smacked.
My legs had started itching from contact with the grass and I was fed up hanging around for them. It didn’t take me long to catch up with Lisa and our friend. They and I were all the same age and Elisa lived across the road with her mum.
Elisa, Lisa and I were approached by a man who was not known to any of us. He offered to help in our game. He had a thick rope which he was helping us play as we were climbing a steep, bank within the woods. I remember the rope being tied around my waist and my fingers reaching for glassy clumps to hold on to as I climbed up.
After we had played for a short time, he told us of another great place to have fun. Lisa decided to not come with us, I still don’t remember exactly why. I think Lisa was concerned but as we had been playing for ages. Elisa and I felt confident to follow him.
I reminded Lisa that I hadn’t wanted to come into the woods anyway but nothing horrible had happened so far. So what was she worried about? Also, it was probably a factor for her that he had been leaving her out of the game and I had been getting some attention. It was certainly a factor for me.
We walked a small way, there was a little brook and he led me away to show me something. Elisa followed, which annoyed him and he made her walk away and stand in some bushes twenty metres or so from where we were. Truth be told I was intrigued as to why she had to stay so far away. I think I even encouraged her to do what he said.
When he was satisfied that Elisa could not see us. He asked me to reach up for a branch. As I did so he reached into my knickers. I was wearing a navy-blue skirt. He touched my outer parts and I asked him what he was doing and put my hands down to push his hands away. He told me that he was going to ‘tickle me’.
He told me to reach a higher branch. While I was stretched out, I started to ask him why this branch and that is when he pushed his fingers into me. It really hurt and I told him, ‘That’s not tickling it’s hurting’.
I fell over as I tried to step backwards as my knickers were about my ankles. I was very scared in that moment as I thought he was coming towards me. But he looked up as he could see someone running towards us.
Lisa came running down from the right of me and Elisa came running over from the left and we all ran home. I don’t recall how the man grabbed his rope and ran away, I was just pleased to feel we were away from him and that he was behind me. I didn’t want anyone knowing.
To be honest when you are a child you are frightened of your parents. I was very frightened of my mum. Frightened I’d be told off for playing in the woods when we were told not to. So much fear that my sister was able to bribe me. I gave Lisa my pocket money that week. 50p was a cheap bribe to have lasted over four decades.
As a child I told no one. My one attempt met with a nervousness from several members of my local church. It was community centre and disco around the corner from our home.
I got sent from one church worker to another. Until I reached the boss man. I told him. He listened to me and I felt heard. He smiled at me in a patronising way but with righteousness on his side. His words were rhetoric for what was going to be said to me many times from that point in time.
He said, “Aww with a smile like that you will be okay” and then “your smile is a gift from Jesus.” He didn’t offer to speak to my parents or help me in any other way. In fact I felt very let down, it had taken a lot to tell them. My sister Lisa became firm friends with all of them. I tried but you can’t force it.
Over the next few months I did some strange things. I walked around the streets, with a notepad, writing down car registrations. I had lists and lists of them. As my parents were separated this wasn’t stopped until dad came to visit one weekend. He went loopy at me. He said people would think I was nuts and told me to stop.
My mother hated me even more. I argued with her over what clothes I would wear. I got upset on set, when Langley School in Plymouth was chosen to be on The Rolf Harris Show. I had been picked out of the school audience, because of my hat. They were doing a song about a princess. I totally panicked as I had a dress on and tears were escaping down my cheeks.
They stopped doing the filming and took me away to somewhere quiet. They calmed me down by being nice to me and assuring me nothing bad was going to happen to me. They gave me orange squash in a plastic cup. Once I had calmed, I stood next to The Brotherhood of Man whilst they introduced the number.
I would get upset over things and not be able to say why. My father demanded I started going outside again and stop reading all mum’s Mills & Boons romance novels. My mum got called into school for my behaviour. It was felt I was just causing trouble for attention.
I used to feel that my biological mother would have known, would have done something for me. I’ve since learnt that’s not necessarily true. What happened to me, was the man in the woods’ fault. This much I know now and have known that for a few years.
Recovery is a funny word, I didn’t really recover from the sexual assault. I just lived with it and tried to work out what it meant. I feel that the family dynamic was to ignore me. I was made to feel grateful to have a home and not cause too many problems for them. I did try to be good and helpful and I attended Church every Sunday.
The guy who hurt me worked for the council as a road sweeper. I know this because after the assault I saw him again. We all used to walk home from school same as children do these days. I was walking on my way home going by another school I passed along the road. He was there. He was bending over picking up a packet from the kerb.
As I walked past, he looked up, I just stood there. When he saw it was me, he grinned. Teeth showing through his thin drawn back lips. His tongue sliding out of his mouth and a little bit of dribble coming over his lips and starting down his chin. He raised a dirty hand to wipe his face and I ran by him. I didn’t stop running until I reached home.
For some time after that second sighting, I would run home from my school so that I could pick up Craig who was five years younger than me, from his school. So frightened, that the dirty guy would get to him. My brother has no idea or any recollection of this.
The incident has tainted my life. More so, because it has been a secret. It has been a secret for several reasons and my writing this piece is me trying to work out exactly why I did keep it a secret for so long. I felt it was my fault. I had an awful habit of copying – children often do. I would repeat things I would hear on the tv.
I recall saying something very inappropriate to my uncle. I recall his face and surprise as he sent me up the stairwell to go to bed on my own. I remember getting a proper smack when I repeated something aired by the BBC on Rainbow. They claim they never broadcast the episode but they did.
Mum and Dad had gotten back together again and I had another brother, Simon. Dad had been posted out to Belm, in Osnabruck, West Germany for three years. So we all went to live there when I was ten years old. Actually on my birthday. Mum and Dad were close again and I had another brother, Simon.
Keeping it a secret made it easy for the next guy. I was twelve and he was fifteen. I got beaten by my mother when a neighbour told her. I admitted nothing. The boy made me feel loved and I thought it was okay. I didn’t know much about anything.
His name is known to me and I know how you can currently find him. At the time I thought he was a young man who really liked me. I got a chance to check that out. When I was grown up, back in England and living in Amesbury, in Salisbury I saw him and followed him on the bus.
Shouting at him to catch his attention. I had to explain who I was. He behaved like I was going to be upset, he was defensive and basically seemed scared. I was eighteen or nineteen and I wasn’t feeling too well. He invited me into his home and I sat and drank some water.
He made so many excuses for me to leave. He explained it wasn’t his place, he just lived there and worked there. He was looking after a sick girl. It was in Salisbury. I was forward and asked him if he was single, he was.
For some reason, he could not get me out of his place fast enough. He was certainly was not interested in seeing me again or knowing anything more about me. I asked about our mutual friend, Monica Hunt, but he didn’t keep in contact. He told me he was doing well, money was good as a psychiatric nurse. I still didn’t join up the dots.
All were strangers to me when I met them. None were family members. This is a valid point, as all the information available says it is usually family members who usually sexually abuse children. That research is very wrong and we need to start protecting our young people across a broader frame.
One opinion I have is that the abusers seemed to know I was a victim already. Somehow, they knew I was the one who would stay quiet. I wish I could have had the courage to tell this story before now. I don’t live in Plymouth. I moved away decades ago.
My family are now around me in Watford, near London. I was an angry person but with each of my written pieces I have found a little freedom. I think the Governments of our country have let me down and others like me. There is nothing now but the truth.
It’s important that resources are spent keeping our children safe. At the moment the rate of youngsters in danger or/and being abused is rising. This is because there is no dialogue. No where for victims to go. Funding needs to be allocated, specially for young women who are woefully underrepresented in our services.
If you are the police, please do get in contact with me regarding this. Or if you are interested in the identity of the older boy living in Germany and his older version in Salisbury. I would be interested to see just how far he has progressed in life within the medical profession.
In the meantime I don’t suppose there is a lot you can do. Perhaps you did have other complaints about sexual assaults on minors in Widewell Woods? If so, then perhaps this could be useful.
What this piece of writing does for me is show the amount of people who could have helped. Social service provision is inadequate for most families. Allocation of funds should be ring fenced to teach children to stay safe and staff trained to spot the signs and a framework in place of where they can go.