Freya's personal story

My world imploded

"I'm sorry but from today your life will never be the same again. The next few months will be hell and there is nothing you can do to avoid it." Those were the words of the lead officer standing at my door at 7pm one day in May 2015 holding a search warrant to remove all electronic devices and memory sticks from my home.

Five minutes before, a very kind female plain clothes police officer had knocked on my door, which became a life changing moment. She had been gently leading up to telling me that my ex-husband was being arrested in my driveway for downloading indecent images of children. My children had just been dropped back by my ex after an hour's play at Daddy's house. Everything just felt surreal.

My children were six and three at the time. I tried to act as though the four police officers were searching through our house because that is just what they do sometimes so they didn't get scared: smiley, 'nothing to see here' Mummy mask. A lovely male officer stopped searching in the sitting room to talk about cars with my eldest just to keep it friendly. I remember feeling embarrassed and self-conscious at the state of the cupboards they were having to sort through, which were stuffed full of life. Ridiculous to feel like that really. 

They were in my house for about two hours. Standing in my kitchen reeling, trying to process what I was being told: "Do NOT tell anyone, not even your closest friends, as there is significant possibility of vigilante backlash and he once lived here so your property will be targeted”; "Social Services will be coming to interview your children and when your ex is released under no circumstances must he have contact with them."; " We have enough evidence to arrest him today and it is highly likely he will go to prison"; "The schools will be told tomorrow so that they can put the appropriate measures in place."; "When it gets to court it will be in the papers."

My head was a smorgasbord of thoughts and I couldn't seem to hold one theme for long as it was all so confusing. If the police are telling me the man I married is being arrested for this crime I believe they have good grounds, BUT Tim just wouldn't have done something so abhorrent, would he? I divorced him the previous summer for a whole host of reasons however this was not on my radar at all. I felt naive and stupid that the crime had clearly occurred (in part at least) under this very roof without my knowledge. The past, now, the future...nothing seemed solid anymore.

The children went to bed at 10pm and I was sitting alone on the sofa looking through the search warrant. I was clearly in shock. I suddenly realised that they hadn't given me a list of things taken. I panicked then that I had just let these people into my home with my children present and it was all fake...had I just been robbed?! So I called the police switchboard to confirm that the name I had was a genuine serving officer. That is how much it didn't feel real!

 

The following days, weeks and months

The next day I continued to struggle to wrap my head around what Tim had allegedly done and what this meant for my family. On the outside nothing had changed. Inside though everything had. My world had imploded and no one knew because on the surface it all looked just as it did the day before. And I had to keep all this devastation secret, which meant no support.

In the weeks that followed I was given very little information. As the ex-wife the authorities couldn't tell me any details until it was made public in court and after two patient phone calls from the police I was left to process what had happened alone. They were working on the premise that he is a non-contact offender and reiterated that he had demonstrated a very clear online/real world demarcation whilst being formally interviewed. I was asked if I thought Tim could commit suicide and I confirmed I felt it was a possibility.

Social Services assessed us within days of the arrest: scared me with a reality check of what indecent images actually are; drew up a contract stating no unsupervised contact between Tim and children until the investigations were complete; did not open a file for my children as I was deemed a responsible mother and that was their job done.

Three weeks after the police search, I sat by myself on my sofa (again) and made the decision to move out of my home town. I felt totally isolated but knew that if it hit the papers then it would only get worse. I had done nothing wrong and my biggest fear was my children being tarnished by their father’s crime. I had to protect my family. I put my house on the market and moved to a new town where I knew no-one at all in summer 2015.

Tim wasn’t sent to prison. He was given a three-year community order and five years on the sex offenders register. His case didn’t get covered by the press or on social media.

But my life and the lives of my children were changed forever.

 

Contact arrangements

The children still see their father weekly, supervised by their nanny (ex-mother-in-law). How do I know if that is the right thing? The truth is I question it all the time

Straight after the arrest Tim didn't see them for two weeks as social services needed to assess us and draw up a contact order. My head was reeling with the enormity of the situation, so I needed that space to re-stabilise anyway. I told them that Daddy had gone away on business, which they accepted as he had started a new job a few months before. During this time Tim would cry down the phone to me, full of regret. At that point his family didn't know however the police said his parents and sister would be told officially soon to safeguard his niece, which made him feel huge shame. I wasn't sure if he was strong enough to withstand facing up to what he had done but did not want my children's back story to include a parent suicide. He was desperate to see his children again and his biggest fear was he wouldn't.

The children love their Daddy. I had just spent eight months post-divorce reassuring them that even though Daddy doesn't live with us anymore they will always get to see him – I didn’t want to go back on my word as it would have damaged their trust in me so when looking at the contact arrangements I initially agreed to be the supervisory adult, with the venue being our family home, for two hours a week. 

That was so hard - I mean really hard to the point it was almost impossible at times. I was angry and confused. I had so many questions for Tim but as the children were always around, I couldn't ask him face to face. Whenever we did try to have a quick conversation in the kitchen, I was always left feeling conflicted. He admitted to stumbling across some images so my gut feeling was that there would be a charge of some sort. Watching him play football in the back garden or sit on the sofa watching TV with a child under each arm looked so normal - but it wasn't anymore, was it.

Part of me questioned if I was over-reacting by deciding to move at the early stage of three weeks into the process however my fear of how I would cope overrode that. If it went to court then I was told it would be in the papers, so everyone would know. I wanted to shield my children from potential fall out, such as exclusion from activities/playdates by protective parents. From then the ongoing contact had an additional aspect to it - I didn’t want my children associating moving to a new town with not seeing Daddy again. Acting early meant I created opportunity for them to adapt to our new circumstances and routine of seeing Daddy less. I was also mindful that soon they may not see him for months as there was no way I'd take them on a prison visit. Even though I was making huge life changes it still felt as if part of me was living in limbo whilst the police analysed all the electronic devices.

On Crown Court day in November 2015 I remember feeling the fear of hearing the sentence and the anticipation of relief that I would finally be able to deal with something that had been looming over me for months. I also was bracing myself to see it in black and white in the newspapers the next day which gave a horrible sensation deep in my tummy. I was ready.

Tim didn't go to prison: the 100% Supervised Contact Agreement signed back in May was to stay in place until the children were adults. That was it. I hadn't prepared myself for that outcome at all.  I was in shock for weeks.

From that point my ex-in-laws have agreed to do the supervising. Every weekend I drive the one hour round trip for my children to have two hours with their Dad. I sometimes question what benefit he is bringing to their lives. The only alternative is a contact centre though and I don't like the idea of those. If I said no to access, Tim would fight me all the way to court if necessary as he does love them and believes he has a right to be part of their lives – that would be very stressful on the children as they would be interviewed so I am keen to avoid taking the legal route.

I talk about “the children” in everything above. The truth is I have sons. Two lovely, energetic, boundary testing, fun boys who make me smile every day and burst with pride. If I had daughters, I know without a shadow of a doubt, that life would have played out very differently: Tim looked at images of girls only. I shudder at the thought at the additional emotions and scenarios which would need to be processed. 

Five years ago I never thought the man I married could look at indecent images - now I have to protect my boys against worst case scenario, even if I think he'd genuinely never harm or try to snatch them, as I got him all wrong before didn't I.

 

Future fears for the children

It breaks my heart that I can't protect my children from what I know will mess with their heads. However, there is nothing I can do to avoid it - I simply need walk by their side as they navigate through it all.

Imagine hearing that your father has a conviction for looking at innocent young girls in a sexual way? Learning about what Tim did was devastating but I had already distanced myself from him emotionally as we were divorced. Somehow, they will have to find a way to live with the knowledge their own flesh and blood is capable of committing that crime – it worries me all the time.

How old should they be before I tell them?  They are still in primary school right now so clearly not yet. I want their loss of innocence to be a natural process like their classmates. In future I will have the big sex talk with them, so they understand consent and the healthy psychological impact of a sexual relationship. Only when they can understand what pornography means could I put their Dad’s crime into context.  But would they be emotionally mature enough to process the knowledge of what he has done even then?  Will they ever be ready? Could anyone ever be ‘ready’ to hear something like this?

I have sons who will experience a period of sexual self-discovery at some point as that is just what growing up is all about.  My concern is that teenage angst will be magnified as they question what the natural urges for boys actually are: the girls they fancy will be their age (probably!) so may be under the legal limit. Will this manifest to a point that they become introverted as they don’t want to be inappropriate? It is tough growing up and they are going to have it harder than most. If it were to get out, would other teenage boys tease them about who they are attracted to because of their Dad’s predilection, compounding their insecurities?

Early on it was put to me that my boys might not agree with my historical decision to have allowed them to carry on seeing Tim. I have thought about that loads over the years. I can remind them of specific incidents which demonstrates that I always ensured access was fully supervised. If they chose not to have anything to do with him in the future, to disassociate themselves from his crime, then I would completely support that.

I want them to know that genetically they may be half Tim but their DNA does not define who they become. Their Mum raised them to respect other people, be held accountable for their actions and how to communicate their feelings - that is what counts, those are the building blocks they used to make themselves the awesome individuals they are. By my letting them know Tim personally they can be empowered to make their own minds up about him. Excessive cannabis use combined with an unhealthy interest in porn and untreated depression took their father down an immoral path. The police arrested him and he served the sentence given by our legal system so he remained part of society. They will learn preciously early in life that people are not always what they seem – that’ll be crushed out of them when they realise that the fun man who says he loves them and played video games with them once a week has a disgusting secret in his past.

 

How could I not have known?

I was in a relationship with Tim for 13 years - surely as his wife I would have picked up on something? I had absolutely no idea.

Before Tim was arrested, I was a snob who had just extracted myself from a sham marriage. Our lovely big house was in a nice part of town with our children attending the local faith school and I was a stay-at-home Mummy whose husband had a well-paid professional job: I kept up the appearance that we were a happy normal family with a performance any actress would have been proud of. What no-one knew was Tim smoked cannabis daily. I was ashamed that the father of my children used recreational drugs as I never had. Even our families didn’t know. When we first got together it was an occasional thing but as he didn’t drink, and he just used it to relax I didn’t think it was a big deal – until it turned into a habit then it slowly eroded everything good. I tried so hard to encourage him to make a different choice, but he wouldn’t or couldn’t stop. I gave him lots of chances to change but eventually I had to do what I felt was right, even if it meant robbing my children of a traditional family unit upbringing, and divorced him. 

I have never found porn a turn-on. The first time I watched any was when I went to university: I felt embarrassed at my naivety and intimidated by what I saw. I also perceived it was demeaning for women as they were just treated as breathing sex toys: which maybe how the industry would have been back then, but I had seen enough for me to make my mind up that out of principle I was not something I would watch. When at age 25 I moved in with Tim I found out he had magazines and videos however I made it very clear that it was something he did when I wasn't around. 

Our sex life was unadventurous/ infrequent. I can remember us arguing about it at one stage as I felt he was looking at porn alone rather than actually making the effort with me when I was there. As soon as we got married, we started trying for a baby. I had two miscarriages before our eldest was born when I was 32. As an only child I wanted two children close in age. On my 34th birthday I finally conceived, and it was as if both of us stopped the pretence in some sort of unspoken agreement: that was the last time we had sex. Tim would fall asleep in front of the TV or be 'working' on his laptop so when one of the children woke me up, I’d go down to get him to come to bed but he would tell me to go away so I stopped bothering. All affection ceased.

By the end we were two people living in the same house raising our children, nothing more than friends. We hadn’t shared a bed for years. Tim had his own separate social circle who I had never met, and he started drinking in a way he never used to. He blamed work stress and my early bedtime (exhausted looking after two babies) for going out so often as he needed the company. Every weekend he would be hungover and too tired to do anything. We would row about it and I would still end up going out alone with the kids, so eventually the pattern of disappointment stopped hurting as I stopped hoping for the family life I envisaged.

Tim lied to me time after time about: money; smoking; where he had been; what he was doing; who he was with - everything. I had an almost sixth sense that there was something more going on and would always find something if I looked or just waited it out: it was an odd feeling. I do acknowledge and believe he was depressed which played a part. As he never ever smoked in front of the children or in the house, he would spend hours literally hours, of his life sitting on a camping chair in our dark dismal garage amongst the boxes of rubbish with only his phone for company. I used to ask what he did out there - I know now.

Before we divorced, Tim very rarely went to the park with his then five- and two-year olds. He never once attended any kids’ parties or went to the school. He wasn't around for any bath or bed times as after tea he was out the back smoking every evening. Tim would very rarely go out alone with the children. At the time I put it down to him being lazy and selfish. I have analysed all memories of seeing him near children through counselling and even now cannot think of any strange occurrences or odd behaviour in person at any point.

I had been saying for years that Tim smoked so much cannabis it was as if he was numbing himself to family life. Now I don't know whether he chose to smoke to the extent he did to repress inappropriate thoughts or if the increase in smoking broke down inhibitions to a point his moral compass failed him whilst losing himself in online porn as a twisted coping mechanism- what came first? Or could it be a spiral of both that caused the behaviour? I'll never get the answer I suppose.

So was there any sign he was looking at indecent images of children online? Not that I was aware. Tim was very secretive about his phone and laptop. I didn't know his passwords as he used to defensively say "You are my wife not my keeper, I am entitled to some privacy". For years he would blank the laptop top screen as I entered the room or switch it to homepage and always hide his phone screen. I would tell him I didn't like it. He would say it is because I was insecure, controlling, over-reacting or being ridiculous. I just assumed that it was either (adult) porn or online dating and, as both indicated a lack of interest in me, it became another nail in the coffin of our marriage. 

When I eventually found out the full description of charges, I discovered that they were dated from four months before my youngest was born. That rocked me big time, almost as much as when he was arrested. Bizarrely I felt relieved that at least it wasn't going on when we were still having sex. Obviously, I'm not naive enough to think that was the exact point his interest started, but at least the behaviour didn't escalate until after all intimacy had ceased between us. It just shows you can never really know another person.

 

Coming to terms with the conviction

I didn’t go to magistrates’ court. I couldn't bear to hear the charges read out for the first time publicly - the lead officer could finally give me a summary via telephone the next day:

Over 1000 images viewed from 2011 until 2015. No videos and no indication that Tim had been involved in making any images himself or been in direct contact with people who do. The images spanned all three categories. He pleaded guilty so the case referred directly to Crown Court. I was told again that the likely outcome was a custodial sentence.

I hadn't prepared myself for the fact it could have been going on for so long or be as bad as that. Tim told me he had done it when he was in a dark dark place as his world had fallen apart when he was made redundant and we were divorcing - he was depressed and stumbled across them. I don't know what I expected: maybe a few images downloaded over period of a year, and only just illegal teenage girls I suppose. I was in total shock at the actual charges and left reeling.

In November 2015 Tim pleaded guilty on all counts and given a three-year community order plus five years on the sex offender register. He drove himself to Crown Court as he believed he was not evil and didn't deserve prison so would be going home to his own bed that night. It turns out the preferred method to address these crimes is to work with the perpetrators proactively in the community as the detection rate had increased drastically so there was not enough room in the prison system. This was his first offence and he had fully complied with the probation service since being arrested. Truly worryingly as a parent was that there were more newsworthy cases being heard that day so once again it didn’t hit the press.

I have spent countless hours and hundreds of pounds in counselling trying to get my head around the actions of the man I married and the impact on my future. I am still not there by a long way I feel even now. In summer 2018 a safeguarding miscommunication in school highlighted to me how much the crime is still fundamentally affecting me: nothing had happened but it was the imagined potential 'What if' scenarios which made me cry more than I thought it could. Three years on and this whole thing has the power to kick me in the gut.

As someone who has had a relationship with a man convicted of this crime I have felt: confused; naïve; stupid; full of self-doubt on how I judge people; disappointed; scared; isolated; lonely; ashamed; torn; heartbroken; guilty I chose that man to be the father of my children; fearful for the future; like a victim - these things all needed acknowledging and working through otherwise my situation would have broken me. I am learning to forgive myself for the mistakes I have made because I was blind to an underlying issue I simply could not have known about. I am pleased I relocated though as that is the only good thing to come out of all of this – I love where I live.

 

Reaction of friends, family and wider community

I am grateful it didn't hit the papers as now there is nothing to Google - it also means it is my responsibility to keep the secret and I hate it. Not giving a reason why the children only have supervised contact with their Dad becomes ‘a thing’ after a while so I have more acquaintances than true friends.

Immediately after the search warrant social services told my children’s school: the deputy head was one of my neighbours with two young daughters.  All I kept thinking was if I found out that another father from school was arrested for downloading indecent images of children, how would I react? If my child had spent any time at their house, I would feel very uncomfortable especially at the young age our children were then - would I approach the ex-wife to verbalise my concerns and get answers/reassurance? The fact I was right in the middle of the experience myself and couldn’t answer those questions easily told me all I needed to know. I had to go.

Before I moved out of my home town only two friends knew the true reason why I was making the huge change plus immediate family. One beautiful lady has remained solid throughout and her friendship is treasured. The other felt, as a mother, I was totally wrong for allowing the children to have ongoing supervised access with their father (before he was even convicted) and I haven’t heard from her since. My ex-sister-in-law immediately disowned her brother but two years post arrest there was a bereavement in the family, so she is now in contact with him again. Tim’s devastated parents stood by him, however I personally don’t feel supported by them as we are excluded from extended family events to avoid awkwardness. My Dad will never be in the same room as him again.

Initially when I moved to my new house the supervised access was here. I thought it would be for a short time before Tim goes to prison - when he didn’t go, I found the arrangements unbearable as it was as if he was polluting my fresh start. I don't want my neighbours ever thinking that I had exposed their children to a person convicted of online sex crime if/when they find out.

Confiding in people feels like a gamble so I rarely do it. Most of the people I have finally trusted don’t know Tim and have only known me as a single Mum so I feel like they are more likely to support me. However, the couple of times I have told a potential boyfriend my circumstances romance has ended due to long-term childcare implications basically. I still feel very uncomfortable about anyone from my old community finding out as I perceive them to be more judgemental.

The crime Tim committed polarises. It is less acceptable than murder in many ways: easier to rationalise (if that is even the right word) with anger and violence than an offence against innocent children.  Whereas he never touched or groomed any young person he still looked at images where the abuse had taken place. Apparently, the fact it was just photos rather than videos made it less of a crime sparing him from prison. In my opinion he was part of the supply/demand loop and that is totally unforgivable.

 

Three years later

I feel so many things:

  • Angry. That he has done this to us. I have done nothing wrong, yet I need to live a life of compromise to protect my children. It has been like living in witness protection without any support as I relocated and can't say the real reason why I needed a fresh start away from my home town. I struggle still with the thoughts that my children are going to experience emotional distress when they hear/understand/live with their father's crime and all those children in the images he looked at were abused by someone somewhere even if he had nothing at all to do with the production of them. It’s just heart-breaking.
  • Unsupported. I have had no guidance or advice from anyone in authority. It is all on me to make decisions on what’s best for my children as no-one can be seen to influence me as I am constantly being assessed in my independent ability to adequately safeguard children. I get it. It’s not fair though and creates a huge amount of pressure. Everything has been changed by what he did emotionally and practically: that makes me a victim, which took me years to acknowledge.
  • Unfairly treated.Social services view me as a suitable parent – at the moment. If I leave my children in the care of their paternal grandmother for supervised access, and it was found out they had spent time alone with their father the burden of responsibility for that choice would fall to me, regardless of my having any prior knowledge of it occurring. My judgement would be questioned because I trusted her in the first place. The buck stops with me and no one has my back.
  • Judged. I know from direct experience that I could be negatively viewed for allowing the children to still see their father at all and people I like/respect may melt away out of my life. It would be prime gossip topic if it got out. “How did she not know?” “Well that explains the supervised access”, etc. It’s horrible to feel like an indirect victim and have no way of defending myself.
  • Misunderstood. I may still see him at drop off/pick up every week for the agreed two-hour access and can hold a civil conversation with him in front of the children, but that doesn’t mean I have forgiven him. I never thought he could do what he did. Ever. Now I must treat him in principle as capable of anything. In 2018 it transpired the school did not have in place the appropriate additional levels of safeguarding I perceived as necessary. It hurt when two close friends, who know the full story, told me they were surprised I had got so upset as nothing had actually happened. Just because I try hard to keep as calm/rational/positive as possible it does not mean I am OK with everything - his crime still feels raw and my world fragile.
  • Marginalised. I’m not like all those other single mums out there. I can’t moan about my ex when he is being an idiot because it inevitably involves why, which I can’t share. I don’t have the battle of getting him to pull his weight as it is not a fight open to me. It makes me different. I feel different. I want to be like any other family, but we aren’t.
  • Restricted. I know that my children have benefited from the consistency and stability I’ve provided by my giving up my career to prioritise their happy childhood, but I do feel a significant loss of identity though which can be crushing at times. I miss socialising as nights out are rare due to lack of childcare.
  • Resentful. Of the fact Tim has a better job than he had before he was convicted and he has a supportive girlfriend. The police forced disclosure to his employers during his standard probationary period in a new company: part of the community order is that the authorities have full access to any electronic devise he uses – he was made permanent anyway. He met a woman who not only accepted his crime, she has moved in with him.
  • Vulnerable. I am a single parent and a carer for my Dad. My ex-in-laws do their bit with the supervised access but don’t really know the children outside of that. Family support is therefore very limited. It takes time to establish a support network in a new town and as I don’t trust many people with the truth my circle of close friends is small.  I worry about who would look after my family if anything happened to me.
  • Fearful. I do fear the effect on my children when they find out, on so many levels. I find the secret suffocating and one day be asking them to carry the burden too. I would love to say I personally don’t care if it gets out but that would not be true – I have established us here and I am not ready for it all to be tested. I want to live in our safe bubble for as long as I can. I hate the thought of my children being bullied for a crime their Dad committed.
  • Sad. My children will never have a proper father now. He can’t take them on adventures or holidays. There is no rough and tumble male role model to push them out of their comfort zone or do things sensible Mummy wouldn’t approve of. I try to be all things for them, including giving them as many new experiences as I can, but my protective instincts have been ramped up to maximum and I have no one to counteract this. I am sad they are missing out. They have also been robbed of the security of two parents due to his choices.
  • Strong. All this has not broken me. At times I have been more fearful of the future and full of self-doubt than I could ever have imagined. For weeks after the arrest I just functioned through life pretending I was OK, then I decided “Enough, I am important too”. I had to stop firefighting and drive change on my own terms. Relocating caused upset within my family, but I knew deep inside it was the right thing to do otherwise I wouldn’t have coped with the community backlash and everything would have fallen apart. I acknowledged early the only control I had in any of this was how I responded and conducted myself. I couldn’t predict how easily it would be to sell/buy houses or how fast the police completed the investigation, but I wasn’t powerless. I had to forgive myself that I couldn’t have seen what he took such great care to hide. I have proactively gone into counselling to get scarily honest with myself and identify how I intend to live life forward. I created my fresh start with a smile on my face and I opened us up to meeting new people. I may have to heavily filter my past, but I try to be authentic. That man took so much but he is not taking my hope and positivity. I know my rock bottom has become the solid foundation which all we have now is built on. Pretty awesome really.
  • Proud. I am hugely proud of my two lovely children. They’ve taken every change I’ve thrown at them as well as I could’ve hoped given how young they are, and we have weathered the storm together. After everything, our love and respect for each other has held our little family unit of three solid. I am also proud of myself: I’ve put my children’s well-being first without question and haven’t compromised on how I want to raise them.

Sometimes I look at my children and see my ex in them: not the man he became but the man I married. I refuse to see anything intrinsically bad in them – my boys may be boundary-testing little monkeys at times, but I am not going to raise them constantly looking out for signs that they are like him. Nurture vs Nature. I am going to nurture all of their good nature so they thrive – just watch me….

 

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised, call our confidential helpline on 0808 1000 900 or visit https://www.stopitnow.org.uk/ or https://www.parentsprotect.co.uk/.

 

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