Written by anonymous, December 2018
The house of cards that was my life collapsed just after 6am one sunny June morning.
I responded to a gentle but insistent knocking on my front door to find a woman and three men jammed into my porch. The woman pushed a piece of paper towards me with one hand and a warrant card with the other. The piece of paper was a warrant made out to the Central Paedophile Unit.
“Do you know what we’re here for?”
“Will we find what we are looking for?”
“Where will we find it?”
“The computer is in the study in the attic.”
The three men went upstairs. Two went to the attic and eventually brought down my computer and two cameras in separate evidence bags. Another went and woke my wife. He would take her into the front room and break the news to her. The woman took me into the back room and we sat down at the table.
Whilst I remember the opening exchange I can’t piece together the exact conversation that took place there but I think that after a brief conversation she arrested me for downloading and viewing indecent images of children.
Eventually, after about a couple of hours, I was taken to a local police station. By this time the police officers had also met my two daughters – although they didn’t chat talk to them – who were aged then fourteen and seventeen.
I am grateful to the police for being so discreet about the whole thing, for arriving in unmarked cars, for not taking me out of the house in handcuffs – and especially to the officer who spoke to my wife just before we left and who told her, “Believe me, I have been involved in these sorts of things for a long time and I can tell there has been no abuse here.”
So, how had it come to this? At the time of my arrest I was a well-respected pillar of the community, well liked and with a broad circle of friends and colleagues. A couple of weeks before I had been told that my name was being put forward for a knighthood for services to the people of London.
Now I was branded a paedophile and my life would never be the same.
How had it come to this?
To answer that question, we probably have to go a long way back. Back to my childhood. And not because I had an abusive childhood. I didn’t. My childhood was supportive and my parents loved me. One of my sisters did, too, although the other would always resent that, after a four-year gap, I had come along to disrupt her status as the beloved youngest child. We were poor and without much in the way of material goods but it seemed cosy enough.
Nevertheless, there was something missing. The love was not overt. I don’t remember being hugged much – although I am sure I was – and there was not a lot of playing together. My own father, I learned much later, had been born illegitimate and unwanted. He was passed around relatives until someone would take him in and I don’t think he ever lived with his mother who was prone to bouts of behaviour that institutionalised her from time to time. She would eventually take her own life.
The result of this was a reticence to show outward emotion and love and I took on that reticence. To add to my difficulties, I was born with bent feet which would take operations to sort out when I was three.
As I grew up – which was on a Midlands council estate – I found it difficult to make friends. I retreated into a world of books. My mother had been a scholarship girl who had gone to the area’s best girls’ school in the thirties but whose education ended when she was 16 because there was no money to pay for her to continue. She ended up working in a dairy and then as a domestic cleaner. She passed her love of books on to me and I retreated into those books and into my own head. Believe me when I say that being a small bookish boy with no interest in sports did not get you friends on my estate. Rather the contrary.
Getting into grammar school didn’t help either. Now I was not only isolated on the estate but also at school – a working class fish out of water in a middle-class world I didn’t understand (there were only three working class boys in my class of 32) – and for two years the smallest boy in the school.
I managed to join in with a group of guys I considered to be friends but only by being the group clown. I had no other identity until my sixth form when I became the school’s acknowledged best actor and through that, when I was 17, became the one who knew where the parties and the girls were. For a person who was supposed to be the butt of jokes and the clown to suddenly become a person who had recognition and was the one who knew all the sixth form girls from the other school and knew where the parties were was a challenge for my “friends” that they didn’t pass. Or I didn’t. Anyway, after we left school we were rarely in touch again.
The strategy for survival I adopted in my last years at school and the skills I had learned were readily transferrable to university. I acted and made friends amongst a wide number of young women but had only one really good male friend.
Why is all this relevant? I became an outwardly social but inwardly isolated young man who coped with the world through the fantasy of acting and books. I could make acquaintances and even some friends easily as far as the world was concerned but it all had an emotional cost and I was constantly insecure.
There isn’t much to say about the next few years. I met a woman I liked, fell in love, we married, had a full social life. But she wanted me around more and resented my going out to be in theatre productions. “It’s me or acting,” she said, “why don’t you get more involved in local politics.” So I did. And that took too much time too. She left. Whilst I had been busy doing good work in the community, she had been doing good work with her handsome and well off squash partner.
I was shattered. My confidence fell back down to zero – internalised yes and not noticed by anyone but gone nevertheless. I fell back on fantasy and women. I had more lovers than was healthy and some of them were quite damaging. And I discovered pornography – entirely legal pornography.
My wife and I had used pornography occasionally but when she left I found a source of supply and bought a couple of videos a month. Many of which I only ever looked at once.
Occasionally however the unsatisfactory nature of my world would come crashing down on me. In 1988 I was involved in a large-scale redundancy programme at work in which my entire section was made redundant and I was redeployed with an insecure future. I had my first nervous collapse and was off work for three weeks. A year later and more work pressure together with my unsatisfactory social life found me half way over the railings on Hungerford Bridge and looking down at the murky River Thames. Only the random thought, “What would mum think?” brought me back from the brink. That at least spurred me to do something about work. I was able to negotiate a voluntary redundancy and set up my own HR consultancy business.
By the time I met my second wife, pornography had become a habit I tried but failed to completely control. I still occasionally ordered new videos – dvds by then – and felt guilty when I did. My wife knew nothing about them.
The problem only got worse when I got a computer at home – essential as I was now self-employed as well as continuing with my work within the community.
Over time my work in the community became more and more full time and more challenging and stressful. I had a position of authority on my local council. My second wife also had a stressful job and I didn’t like to burden her with my problems on top of her own and she did likewise. Besides, we now had a young family to bring up.
I felt more and more isolated and unable to cope and with no strategy to deal with it. Gradually I went into myself when things became too much and used porn to relax.
In 2001 I was on the edge of nervous collapse. Rather than my senior colleagues helping with my stress they seemed content to add to it. I seemed to be suddenly the person responsible for everything – especially if it went wrong. Something had to give and I backed off from the senior position on the council for a while. My feeling of inadequacy was fortified for a time and made worse when I contracted pneumonia and left it far too late to do something about it. I was after all putting together a council budget at the time. The result was a Christmas struggling to live. And when I got out my use of porn to cope with stress, that feeling of isolation got worse.
Things improved for a while and I became the leader of my local authority. My head seemed well together. I could always cope with a lot of pressure until it came at me from too many directions at once.
And it started to do just that. Big decisions on finance and a number of hot and difficult issues piled up. I could cope with all that in the first years of my leadership because my family life was supportive, I had a head of office who was brilliant at supporting me and my senior team were generally on top of things and we were going in the same direction.
And if something increased the pressure there was always the computer and the porn.
I can honestly not say when some of the images and videos moved into borderline illegality and then into illegality. I guess that it would be some time around 2005 but possibly earlier. At that time images would occasionally crop up randomly as the filters on many porn sites failed to screen out all illegal porn that people uploaded to them.
In 2006 I was under pressure again and needed two weeks out of my schedule. I was even worried enough to go and see the council’s welfare officer. Obviously, I didn’t mention the porn – especially not the illegal porn. How could I? To do so would have meant the end of my career, had a major impact on my family and led to arrest. That is after the problem for people like me – the steps to prevent or stop the problem leads to professional, social and legal Armageddon.
After a few weeks my head got together again – or so I thought – but some things had shifted. My political colleagues were more difficult. Never having made many real friends, there was no-one I could talk to. Except – on the web there is always someone to talk to. People who understood. People who also liked to talk about porn and sex. Unfortunately, there were also people who liked illegal images of children.
Now, courtesy of msn and yahoo messenger I could chat and exchange images. Here were people who were not always making greater demands on me and expecting me to square impossible circles.
Of course, I knew that I was in deep trouble. Every so often I would delete all the images and vow not to go on to the messenger chats. But by now I was addicted and it only took a little pressure for the cycle to begin again. And the pressure and the stress was getting worse, made even more acute by the fact that in my final years before my arrest my deputy, whose job was to support me as well as to challenge me was well into the challenge but not the support. The fact that my deputy wanted my job didn’t help.
Even before that, in about 2008, I had my last collapse. It happened at the end of November. A good time to have an incognito illness which could last for the weeks up to Christmas and then span Christmas and into the new year. I was out of the loop totally for three weeks and then went into a slow recovery for another three.
Being honest I should never have stood in the 2010 elections. I was not enjoying my role any more but there was still so much to do. If my job would go to a person I thought had the ability I could retire and pick up consultancy again. The fact was however that the likely person to take over was the very person who spent so much time piling on the pressure.
So I did stand for re-election in 2010 and things got worse and worse. By this time, I seemed to spend more time on the computer in a fantasy world – living through a blog apparently run by a man and woman who were totally obsessed by sex and who found a ready collection of followers. And people still sent me illegal images – many of which I didn’t even open and look at – they simply got filed away. It was now just an obsessive process. No real meaning except to channel the negativity I had to absorb in my day job into a dark world of obsessive sex addicts.
Some people did notice something was wrong, of course. They noticed that I drank too much sometimes. In the end two of my colleagues challenged me about it. Tough love. Not a question about how they might help. One of the colleagues had always been a good friend. The other was the deputy who wanted me out. For her to threaten to lead a revolt against me and take my job wasn’t much of a threat. I already knew she was trying to do that anyway. What that whole process did was make things worse.
Of course, there were people who were good friends who listened to my angst and my Head of Office was always a great support. But I could hardly tell them where the path was leading me, could I?
I should make one thing clear, however, I do not blame others for my addiction and I do not blame others for the illegal things I did. I am responsible for that. I do not blame others for my failure to seek real professional help. I am responsible for that too. I can I think blame others for the gratuitous piling on of pressure and their failure to help when I was so clearly having difficulties. With some it simply meant doing their jobs as they were supposed to.
When the knock on the door came on that bright June morning there was fear – not so much about the social and legal consequences but about how the family would hold together – if it would. There was also an overwhelming sense of release.
It is, I think, a measure of how bad things had become that in the months leading up to my trial and with every possibility of imprisonment, I was in a more stress-free state than I had been in almost my entire life.
There is a problem for people like me. People who get hooked on pornography and whose addiction takes them on to viewing images of children or extreme images. There is nowhere to turn unless you are willing to risk losing everything. The old saying of being hung for a sheep rather than a lamb is directly applicable. If you seek help it will almost inevitably lead to humiliation, ostracism and prison. There is simply no incentive. Except for self-respect which frankly one would have lost a long time before.
You may save your family. But probably not. One thing that social workers are very good at is putting pressure on women to leave their husbands over this. Sometimes that is justifiable – often it is not.
Simon Bailey, the Chief Constable of Norfolk and the National Police Chiefs lead on child protection makes a distinction between those who have a sexual interest in their DNA and those who view images of children because they have become addicted to pornography. He is right to do so. If the “system” could develop a way to distinguish between the two it would make it easier for people like me to come forward for help and for a cycle of criminality to be broken. It is not impossible – it is the approach they adopt in Germany.
It would make it easier for people – overwhelmingly but not exclusively men – to access therapy. It would make it easier to keep families together and limit the damage done to families and especially children. It would save tens of millions of pounds in policing, court and prison costs. Imagine a situation where the state provided £5000 to pay for therapy and support rather than spending tens of thousands on initial prosecution and tens of thousands on incarceration.
But that debate can run through two other articles I hope to write – one about my experience of prosecution and imprisonment and one on therapy and recovery.
This article is copyrighted to the author. Permission must be sought for its use in whole or in part, except by StopSO UK for the benefit of the aims of that organisation.