Freedom News

“The court system put me through hell”

CW: Child abuse, including rape, violence, and drugs.

The police laughed at her when she reported her sexual abuse. After battling for justice, Laura Hughes tells Freedom how she lost all confidence in UK police and prosecutors.

It has been a year since the monster that abused me was locked up. It had been 27 years since I had escaped him and his shithole home. I had slipped through all the systems in place to protect young people in the mid-nineties, and my school never flagged up my absence when I stopped attending at 13; I was stuck there for over two years. Yet, in 2023, things should have drastically improved, but the system still felt like it was striving to pull me down. The police behaviour around the case, them and the CPS (Criminal Prosecution Services) making mistake after mistake, leading to more victims. The court system put me and another victim witness through hell in the way they handled the case. Why were these defunct notions of a justice system allowed to destroy our lives?

Firstly, the court witness room had glass windows in its door, which meant that on the second day of court, the paedophile stared straight at me. I was due to take the stand as a character witness for a historic rape case after another victim of his had come forward after 30 years. I had not seen him since I had escaped and had no idea who she was. He had come straight into the court, and when the security guard searched him, he stared straight at me with his arms up. The air left my body, and I was back there underneath him, frozen still after failing to fight my way out of his grasp. I was in shock because the witness care staff had just told me I would not see him until inside the courtroom, but they were wrong. The police officer had told me that I would not recognise him at all, that he was very old now, and it later turned out that he had attempted to say he was mentally unfit to attend court and had even faked shaking and barely being able to walk until he saw the court doctor then he completely stopped shaking again.

The police had made me come out of an inner witness waiting room because another witness who had to do with our case was in there. At that point, I assumed she was a relative of his or on his side, so the tension was tremendous. The police had asked me to reread statements typed up from the two video interviews I had had, one from 2008 and the other from 2020. As I read the 2008 one, I realised that I did not even have the vocabulary for what had happened to me back then. I had used words like ‘willy’ in such a childlike manner instead of ‘penis’ that it read like a paragraph out of Viz magazine instead of the sexual abuse that it was. I was an extremely shy 28-year-old back then and had barely touched on how violent my experiences had been. How he had tied me up when I was so drugged that when I would regain consciousness, I would pass out with pain. How sometimes, I would think I was dead, and as I was so fucked up on speed, LSD, Largactol, Ecstasy, weed, hash and vodka that the lines were blurred as being drugged, raped and abused went on for years. I was so groomed that I came to depend on Martin Butler for food, shelter and now the drugs I was addicted to. Something even my own mother will never accept because it highlights her failures with me being so young.

My brother, who was just under two years older than me, had had his nose smashed with a brick by my dad around his 14th birthday and ran away to the squats in Brixton and Croydon. I found him two years later after the paedo gave me £20 as I was crying all the time. Not once did my family or any institution report him missing. When I was 12 before the paedo, I had been hospitalised from attempted suicide, and my parents had just left me there; when my dad did collect me four days later, he dropped me off at a friend’s house, failed to tell her mum what had just happened, then left me there for weeks.

The Me-Too movement in 2018 led me to post on Facebook about the violent rapes I had survived as a young teenager. I made it into a meme after I had found his profile and pictures of him from back then and more recent ones. I had written on it the crime number from the first time I had reported it all to the police in 2008 and how another of his victims, Lauren, had also made a report again after they had ignored her seven years before when she had tried. The comments on the post began as I shared it with the local pages where I had grown up, knowing he may still be local. It blew up and got shared 1700 times; story after story emerged from both women and men who had suffered at his hands. A legal friend of mine advised me to take the post down as I could get in trouble, but instead, I asked people to contact the police directly using the crime number, and I phoned up the police to tell them what was happening. The Police Officer laughed at me down the phone and told me there was nothing she could do. I asked her to give me another crime number to write on my post because I felt it was too much for me. I was getting reports from everyone, where he drank, where he lived, and worked. I got told what shop he was in once and what he was currently purchasing, and I felt an eerie, uncomfortable feeling that I was doing the stalking. The police did not care, and the incident faded away.

A year passed, and a police force in Bodmin contacted me and asked me if I was prepared to do a new video interview regarding my abuse. They stated that another victim had come forward. Another year later, they came to my flat in East London, set up their equipment and asked me what kind of sex I had been into (I had been a virgin when I met the paedo at 13!) They asked me why I studied human rights law, and one squealed with laughter, saying, “You can do me a favour and get rid of human rights entirely.” I was dumbfounded. After a four-hour visit, they left and had apparently forgotten to record the sound.

Rape Crisis gave me a representative who made it clear to the police that by law, they must update me with any changes in the case, for example, when he was arrested. If the case was dropped, etc., sometimes it took them months to respond to them, and I spent years stuck in limbo, not knowing anything about the case or if he would ever stop being a threat to children and teenagers in public. Three police forces dealt with the case, so each one didn’t know what the other was doing, and I later found out the woman Mary Sharp, who had bravely gone to the police, had had to appeal the CPS decision to drop the case three times!

It was not until six months ago when a mainstream company was proposing to make a documentary about our harrowing experiences collectively as three victims who finally got justice, that the CPS decided to talk to us and explain a few things. He stated on a video conference call that back in 2008, the police had prosecuted Martin Butler for the wrong crime that he was being prosecuted for sexual violence rather than statutory rape of a minor and the violence involved. I had walked away after court with £16500 compensation but zero justice and was never told it was the authority’s fault. The police, the CPS and the courts had allowed an extremely violent paedophile to walk freely out of court that day. He had moved to Stevenage, and his local’s landlady told me that he had recently bought a car for a young girl and always gave the kids chocolate. Everyone thought he was a sweet man. Of course, they did.

I would support the police, the CPS and the courts to be defunded and decommissioned as I have decades of experience knowing their system will not do better. This money and those jobs would be better placed in supportive roles in communities, education, health and community centres. These remnants of a past flawed colonial, patriotic system have always punished women, children, BIPOC and the LBGTI+ communities. Dragging out this process to get justice for 15 years since I first made a report. Dragging it out for five years since Mary first made a report and poor Lauren first walked into a police station 23 years ago and was shunned. What has changed for survivors today?

~ Laura Hughes

The trial Laura was involved in was previously covered by the Guardian

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