Girl A and Nigel Bunyan
This book is a work of non-fiction based on the life, experiences and recollections of the author. The names of people, places, dates, sequences or the details of events may have been changed to try to protect the privacy of others.
It was the image of the clock on the wall that I tried to hold on to that day and, after all this time, it’s a memory I still cling to.
It was a child’s clock, the sort that a thousand girls might find as they unwrap presents on their birthday or on Christmas Day. The face itself was pink, but it had white letters, and in the middle was an angel with beautiful, outstretched wings and a smile so radiant you could imagine it healing even the most broken of hearts. The second hand was white, too: I could hear every tick, every imagined heartbeat as it arced its way around the angel.
In this room, of all rooms, it seemed out of place. Set high on the wall, it looked down on a single mattress which that day, and probably for many days before, was covered with a grubby blue sheet. The mattress, edged with dust, rested on bare floorboards littered with bubble wrap and a scattering of empty, abandoned cardboard boxes.
There was a central light flex and an over-bright, old-style bulb. But no one had bothered to cover it with a shade. The single windowpane bore a jagged diagonal crack, with no curtains to cover it. Instead, the afternoon light streamed in.
I’d seen the clock briefly as I came in, a blur on the wall, but now I kept trying to focus on it. My head tilted in desperation towards the wall, trying with all my might to take in the sight of the beautiful angel, hoping she might reach down and somehow carry me away to safety.
But there would be no rescue that summer’s day, nor for many, many more. Instead, tears streaked my face and my lungs were filled involuntarily by the smell of cheap soap as the unbearable weight of him bore down on me. I tried to scream, but his hand was pressed over my mouth, stifling the sound.
All I could do was turn towards the angel and watch the second hand, barely distinguishable, making its way,
My own smile was torn from me that day, discarded along with my innocence on that grubby mattress. I was only a child and had just been raped by the leader of a paedophile gang who preyed on vulnerable, fragile girls like me. Uniquely in Britain, they were all Asian, and almost to a man Pakistani, and their victims were found to be exclusively white girls.
The race of their victims would become a national debate but to me it was irrelevant. These men were nothing more than paedophiles and what they did, whether it was to a white girl, an Asian girl, or to a girl of any other race, was at heart just
For seven months these men ‘trafficked’ me – moved me around from place to place, from sick pervert to sick pervert – across the north of England, not caring about the pain and the suffering I felt, intent on selling me to other men who found a sick pleasure in defiling children in seedy flats and houses.
By the time it was all over, I felt dead inside. But for some it was only the beginning of the story, and it was all anybody wanted to talk about. My parents, Social Services, the newspapers, the courts,
All I wanted to do was hide away from the world, but I still had a role to play. I had to be ‘Girl A’ – the key witness in the trial that finally saw my abusers locked up. Girl A – the girl in the newspaper stories who had been through the most hideous experience imaginable. When I read those stories, I felt like I was reading about somebody else, another girl who was subjected to the depths of human depravity. But it wasn’t. It was about me. I am Girl A.
I can’t tell you my real name: I don’t want anybody to know who I really am. Slowly, I’m beginning to realise that what happened to me wasn’t my fault, that I was taken advantage of by a group of vile, twisted men. And, on top of that, I am becoming aware that I was let down by some of the very people who should have been there to help me: the people who either didn’t realise or didn’t care that I desperately needed to be rescued, or else turned a blind eye to it because to have acknowledged what was going on was, to them, unthinkable.
Because how could they admit, even to themselves, that teenage girls on their own doorstep were being preyed on in such a way? Trafficking was something that happened in other countries far, far away, wasn’t it? And, anyway, if a few girls liked me slipped through society’s safety net, did it really matter?
I’m not perfect. I’m a long way from being perfect. Deep within me, I still feel a strong sense of shame for some of the things I did, and for my weakness in falling prey to my abusers. Even now I sometimes find it too painful, too raw, too shaming, to speak about it all. But I will try to tell you how it came to be, in the best way I can. Because if I can stop another girl ending up like me, I might learn to accept myself once again. Maybe.
People tell me my feelings about it all will fade, and I have to believe that they will. I
For now, at least, my real name is one of the few secrets that have not been stripped bare. That’s mine to keep. You can call me Hannah, if you like.
So this is it, this is the story of Girl A. It’s a story that should never have happened but did, and one that will happen again if the right changes to our society aren’t made. This is my story.
My early childhood was as close to idyllic as I can imagine.
I was born in Manchester in the early nineties, the first in what would become a brood of five happy children, and spent the first four years of my life at my grandparents’ home on the outskirts of the city.
Mum and Dad had met on a blind date in Manchester a few years earlier. By the time I was ready to start primary school, they had saved up enough money to afford a home of their own. They had also decided to move away from Manchester, and settled on the west Lancashire coast, where Dad set up a new business.
The new house was within yards of the sea, so from being small I remember being taken to the beach with my two younger sisters, Lizzie and Sophie and, a little later, the twins, Matthew and Stephen. In the summer we’d paddle and build sandcastles; in the winter we’d just enjoy walking our two German Shepherds out past the dunes and onto the flat, windswept sands.
Both dogs are a bit old and worn at the edges now, but back then they would strain on their leads to drag me headlong towards the beckoning waves.
The seaside it may have been, but I actually hated swimming, so I’d never venture far into the water. I was much happier playing on my bike, racing down the massive hill from the sea wall. It was dangerous, but it didn’t stop me – even when I went over the handlebars and ended up bruised and crying on the grass. I saw it as a game of dare that I couldn’t resist!
I was a little daredevil, but there was a softer side to me, too.
Since I was little, I’ve wanted to be a nurse and when I was four, I was given one of those white nurse’s outfits by Father Christmas. At home, me and Lizzie, who was just a year younger than I was, would spend hours playing nurse and patient.
‘Breathe in,’ I’d say very seriously, wielding my pretend stethoscope at my poor victim.
We’d wrap tissue around our arms and legs as casts and try to make them set with water. We’d end up looking like little mummies, and the carpet would look a bit of a mess too. But it was the most fun I could remember. Mum’s always said I had a caring side.
I didn’t particularly notice at the time, but in those early years by the seaside we always seemed to be pretty well off. Dad’s business was doing well. I was also busy building up something myself; in my case, a huge collection of Barbie dolls. All high gloss and perfect. I’d sit them in their pink convertible so they could sweep their way around our bungalow.
There was enough money for ballet lessons, and for me to spend a fortune on every bit of S Club 7 memorabilia that money could buy. Lizzie and I would watch the S Club 7 films and dance endlessly to their music. There was a lot of Britney, too.
For holidays we’d go to places like Butlin’s at Clacton, Center Parcs in Sherwood Forest, or else to campsites around the country. The family could guarantee that if there was ever a karaoke night, I’d be at the front of the queue, taking my ...