January 2017

‘We were sexually abused as children – by our uncle’

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As Tracey came face-to-face with the uncle who sexually abused her, she hit him, knocked him down and said ‘that was for all the abuse all them years ago’.

Tracey and her sister Donna were young children when they were sexually abused at the hands of their uncle Douglas Richardson.

And for decades neither sister knew that he had also abused the other sibling.

Richardson’s crimes only came to light after Tracey’s chance encounter with Richardson in Cramlington’s Asda – 40 years after the abuse.

The 59-year-old, who is terminally ill, was last week found guilty of six counts of indecent assault on a child under the age of 13 and, after suffering in silence for so long, the brave sisters havenow bravely waived their anonymity to speak about their uncle’s attacks.

One of seven children, Richardson came from a tight-knit family, but it was in his parents’ home that the warped pervert took advantage of his young nieces.

The sexual abuse lasted years, and victim Donna Cunningham explained how she thought it was normal, and took place in every family.

“When it first started happening, he used to carry us up to bed — we could only have been four or five, and he was 12 or 13.

“I didn’t speak out because he kept saying ‘you’re not allowed to tell anyone. If you tell anybody, you won’t be able to see your mum and dad again.“I had no idea it was happening to Tracey too.”

Donna’s younger sister, Tracey said: “After a while you get it into your head that it’s normal and it’s what happens when someone loves you.

“I loved my other uncles so much and it got to the stage where I didn’t think they loved me because they didn’t do what he did.”

“That’s the way we grew up, thinking you’re to blame.

The sisters look back on how the childhood abuse affected their lives.

Tracey explained she has never sought counselling for the trauma: “I wouldn’t because I had too much hatred inside of me. I wasn’t going to forgive and forget what he had done.

“To this day I feel like I should be in pain. I have snapped my teeth, I get my nails done just to tear them off, but in my head I feel like I should be suffering.”

The two have still never spoken in depth to each other about the horrific experiences they suffered at the hands of their uncle.

“Even now, I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly what happened to Donna, and vice versa, other than what was read out in court,” says Tracey.

Although always knowing she would tell police, the mum-of-two finally reported her uncle after seeing — and punching — him in a Northumberland supermarket.

The chance encounter happened at the Asda in Cramlington when, stood at the returns counter, Tracey heard the voice of her childhood tormentor.

“I was chatting to the young bairn behind the desk and I hear this voice a few meters away, shouting for a pound coin and I knew before I had even turned round,” She said.

“I said to the young lass ‘I think I’m going to be sick’. I turned around and it was him.

“I went up to him and said ‘you don’t remember me, do you?’ He didn’t, but thought he was getting chatted up which made it even more vulgar to me.

“I belted him, knocking him down. He got up and asked ‘What was that for?’ I told him ‘that was for all the abuse all them years ago’ and he ran out the shop.”

That was on the Friday. By the Monday, after 40 years, Tracey finally went to the police.

“On the Monday morning, it felt as if I was floating; I was happy as Larry. I got all dressed up, the bairn went off to work and I drove down to Gateshead police station — nobody knew what I was aboutto do.

“I gave a basic statement and the next day went back and spoke to someone from CID. I was in there most of the day.

“That was the only person I ever told exactly what actually went on. Nobody will ever hear it from me again.

“I wrote a text to my mum, dad, Donna, and my daughter simply saying ‘Been to the police station and pressed charges against [Richardson]’, sent it and turned my phone off.

“I felt totally, totally different.”

This feeling of a weight off her chest continued, when he finally had his time in court.

After police contacted her sister Donna for a statement, she too came forward with 12 further allegations, including rape.

Richardson stood trial last November when he was convicted of the six indecent assaults but cleared of more serious rape charges.

Richardson will now spend three years behind bars, although his life expectancy is estimated at between 18-months and two years because of his cancer. He was ordered to sign the sex offenders register for life.

Tracey said: “To see him finally in court felt great. Yes I got upset, and I got upset with his barrister and the way they made him out to be this perfect person, but I had to see him get sent down.

“It made us feel sick to see him sat there smirking, but that was finally closure.”

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