Sarah Smith last week won £160,000 compensation from Bradford City council after it admitted a breach of duty in not removing her from the family home.
They look just like any other loving mother and child as they stroll home hand-in-hand after school.
But between Sarah Smith and her eight year-old-boy lies a dark, explosive secret that is threatening to tear them apart.
Because the father of Sarah’s son is her own father. And their plight is the result of a litany of scandalous neglect by social services staff.
They failed again and again to keep Sarah from the clutches of her evil dad. He raped her more than 1,000 times from the age of 10 during seven years of abuse and got her pregnant TWICE – yet social workers ignored her pleas for help.
Last week, Sarah won £160,000 compensation from Bradford City council. It admitted breach of duty in failing to remove her from the family home.
Today, in an emotional interview, she tells of her terrifying childhood and how her escape from her father at 17 ended in even more despair.
Because Sarah, now 25, quickly got a boyfriend and gave birth to a boy she believed was his – only to discover the terrifying truth through a DNA test four years later.
Tears of despair fill her eyes as she looks at the little boy she affectionately kisses every day when picking him up from school. “I love my son, I really do, but it’s so hard to bond with him properly,” says Sarah, who now also has a little girl. “Every time I look at him I see my dad.
“I know I hold back love for him. I can’t control my emotions.
“I know I give his little sister more affection and I feel so guilty but sometimes when I look at him and I see the resemblance the trauma comes flooding back. I get flashbacks to being raped.
“It doesn’t help that my son has learning problems. It makes parenting him harder. I wouldn’t change his being here, but I am totally torn by my feelings.
“I just wish he had another father.”
Sarah – whose name we have changed to protect her and her son’s identities – was first raped by her father in 1999. Within days the 10-year-old was being assaulted three times a week while her mother was out working in a care home.
She recalls: “One day he told me to lie on my bed and make noises like he was giving me a beating. Then he raped me.”
After three years of hell, Sarah plucked up the courage to tell her mum, only to be left crushed when she didn’t believe her.
In August 2003, unable to take any more, Sarah stopped a community police officer on the street and spilled out her secret.
After a medical examination she was placed under a protection order and taken to live at the nearby home of her older sister – her mother’s daughter by a different man. Her father was charged with rape. In January 2004, Sarah was put in a children’s home in Bradford as her sister struggled to look after her.
But her dad was found not guilty of child rape – a notoriously difficult charge to prove – and the following month he returned to the family home. Sarah started to self-harm. She says: “When dad was cleared I was heartbroken. It had all been for nothing.”
It was then that social services began to make serious errors of judgment over Sarah. Within a week she was taken out of the children’s home and placed with her parents’ next-door-neighbours.
Sarah says: “I couldn’t believe it. Dad banned any of my family from speaking to me and one day he threw a bucket of water over me from the top window. It was horrible. Mum secretly came to visit me. She wanted me home. I buckled under the pressure.” Less than two weeks later – with the knowledge of social workers – she was allowed to move back. Her reasons are heartbreaking.
“I was very confused,” she says. “I wanted Mum to love me and believe me and, strangely enough, I still loved Dad. When I got home he made me apologise to him in front of the whole family.
“He made me say I had made up wicked lies. I did it because I was scared.” Sarah’s mum had convinced social workers her husband lived away from home during the week and would only be at the house on Saturdays.
But in March 2004, Sarah told them he was there all the time – and she was returned to the children’s home.
Astonishingly, eight days later a child protection review took place and a plan was drawn up for her to go BACK home. The next month, she fell pregnant for the first time with her father’s baby. In a bid to protect her mum, she said the father was a non-existent boyfriend.
“Dad knew the baby was his but stood there, calling me dirty and disgusting,” says Sarah, who was then only 15. In June she had an abortion at St Luke’s Hospital in Bradford.
Her mum was by her side. Incredibly, just 12 days later, social workers – who knew of the abortion but were unaware of the identity of child’s father – took her off the child protection register. Records noted she was living at home and “getting on better with her father”.
Five weeks later Sarah told a social worker her dad was abusing her again. In notes, the worker reported no further investigation could take place because he had been found not guilty.
Then came a glimmer of hope. Another worker in the social services department was troubled by Sarah’s case and felt it should be re-opened. But the appalling blunders continued.
Between July and December 2004, social workers visited the family home EIGHT times but failed to take Sarah out of the house. In September, they finally called police for advice about the not guilty verdict. Officers said they were in “no doubt” Sarah’s story was true.
Yet staff closed her case in December 2004, again citing improved relations between Sarah and her father.
Sarah says: “I couldn’t believe they’d closed my case. I felt let down again and totally trapped.”
After another year of rapes and beatings, the college student again fell pregnant to her dad at Christmas 2005.
She was 17 and had just moved out of the family home into a hostel where she met an older boyfriend. Sarah convinced herself the son she gave birth to was his.
Then four years ago, police knocked at her door. They said her sister had made a statement about being abused by Sarah’s dad and asked for DNA tests.
Sarah, who has suffered post traumatic stress disorder because of her past, recalls: “A female officer told me and I started shaking and crying. Up until then I’d just been a normal mum.
“When my boy was born I cradled him and saw our life together as a fresh start. But Dad has poisoned that too.”
Both she and her sister gave evidence against her 53-year-old father in 2012 and he was jailed for 19 years.
Today Sarah, who split from her boyfriend earlier this year, is on anti-depressants and says she drinks “far too much”. She now speaks to her mum but they have never discussed the abuse.
“The adult part of me wants to scream ‘Why didn’t you believe me?’ but the child in me just wants her to love me.”
She gazes at her boy – and tells of her fears for the future. “One day I’ll have to tell him the truth,” says Sarah. “How do you tell your son something like that?”
She says she is “happy” about the payout but there has been no celebration. “It was never about the money,” she says.
Ironically, Sarah is now training at college to be a social worker. She said: “I just want to make sure what happened to me never happens to anyone else.”
Bradford Council has so far failed to offer an apology. Julie Jenkins, Bradford Council’s assistant director Children’s Specialist Services, said: “The Council is aware of this young woman’s circumstances and she has accepted damages of £160,000.”
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