November 2018

Mum’s boyfriend ‘raped me many times in our family home’

A rape victim has spoken about the horrific abuse inflicted by her mother’s boyfriend when she was growing up in her Somerset family home.

Harley was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions between the ages of 12 and 19 by Richard Coward at their home in South Petherton, near Yeovil.

She said: “He took away my childhood in the worst possible way”.

After Coward “abused her trust on a daily basis”, Harley managed to run away with her mother to a refuge before moving to another part of the country.

Years later, she found the courage to report her attacker’s depraved abuse and eventually saw him brought to justice.

She has now spoken out about her ordeal and has encouraged other sex abuse victims to talk to someone about what is happening to them.

Coward was handed a 20 year prison sentence after a jury found him guilty of a string of rape and sexual assault charges.

Harley, now 25, who has waived her right to anonymity, said: “He would make sure that my mum wasn’t around, and she was not aware that it was going on at the time.

“I was just eight when he moved in, and I was 12 when the abuse began.

“It was just horrible, all the offences took place at our house in South Petherton.

“He raped me many times in our family home.”

In her victim impact statement, she wrote: “At first things were OK and he gave me treats and things to look forward to, I now realise this was the first step in gaining my trust.

“The most hurtful thing about it all is what he did to the relationship that I have with my mum.

“Prior to him coming into my life I had a perfect relationship but he turned us against each other pushing our loyalties to the limit.

“Although we are now in a much better place and trying hard to rebuild our relationship, I don’t feel it will ever get back to how it was and will never fully be forgotten.”

The abuse only stopped when Harley and her mother ran away from their Somerset home to a local refuge when she was 19.

She said they left when Coward punched her, but although she reported the physical assault, she was unable to confide in her mum about the sexual abuse she had suffered for so long.

Harley said: “I got him arrested for hitting me and we fled to a refuge, and then moved to a different county.

“I informed my mum about the (physical) assault, but I thought I could deal with the sexual abuse on my own.

“However, there were bigger demons, and I had nowhere else to turn, so I eventually told my mum about the sex abuse as well after years of bottling it in, and he was arrested in 2016.”

After Coward’s arrest, Harley and her mother had to wait for two more long years before the trial.

“It took such a long time for a court date to be set,” Harley said.

“The trial lasted for a week, and the only people giving evidence were me and my mum.

“It was draining, it was nerve-racking, it was probably the worst week of my life and my mum’s life as well.

“I sat in the stand for two and half hours behind a screen to give evidence.

“It was such a strange feeling to be there, he was standing right in front of me and I could hear him him coughing and making noises as I was talking.”

Richard Desmond Coward was sentenced to a total of 20 years imprisonment after a jury found him guilty of three separate sexual assault charges and nine separate rape charges at Bristol Crown Court on October 19.

Harley said: “I was very happy with the sentence because in my head beforehand I was expecting him to get a much shorter sentence.

“From what I have seen in previous cases, I had assumed it would be much shorter.

“Although, he should have got 83 years in total, if you add up all the separate offences he was convicted of.”

Coward’s conviction list in full

1. Sexual assault (30.03.2005) – 2 years imprisonment concurrent

2. Sexual assault (31.03.2008) – 18 months imprisonment concurrent

3. Sexual assault (30.03.2007) – 2 years imprisonment concurrent

4. Rape (between 30.03.2007 and 31.03.2008) – 10 years imprisonment

5. Rape (between 01.03.2008 and 30.06.2008) – 7 years imprisonment concurrent

6. Rape (between 30.03.2009 and 31.03.2010) – 7 years imprisonment concurrent

7. Rape (between 30.03.2006 and 20.06.2012) – 10 years imprisonment consecutive

8. Rape (between 30.03.2008 and 20.06 2012) – 7 years imprisonment concurrent

9. Rape (07.06.2012) – 10 years imprisonment concurrent

10. Rape (between 30.03.2008 and 20.06.2012) – 10 years imprisonment concurrent

11. Rape (20.06.2012) – 7 years imprisonment concurrent

12. Rape (between 30.03.2008 and 20.06.2012) – 10 years imprisonment concurrent