The Sheffield incest case concerns the conviction in November 2008 in Sheffield Crown Court of a 54-year-old British businessman who, undetected over a period of 25 years, committed incestuous rape of his two daughters, fathering nine surviving children with them. Apparently unrepentant, he received 25 concurrent life sentences and must serve a minimum of nineteen and a half years in prison. Coming in the wake of a similar incest case in Swindon in 2003, independent inquiries have been set up to examine the way in which the case was dealt with by local authorities, the medical profession and child help agencies.
The defendant in the case was referred to as the "British Fritzl", "The Gaffer", his own preferred name, or "Mr. X", because, due to a court order to protect his daughters and their nine surviving children, his name could not be revealed publicly. He was responsible for bringing about many pregnancies with his two daughters since the early 1980s until his arrest in 2008. Parallels were drawn between him and Josef Fritzl, the perpetrator of an Austrian incest case which came to light a few months previously. He received 25 simultaneous life sentences and must serve a minimum of nineteen and a half years in prison.
Prolonged incestuous abuse
The man continued the abuse by frequently relocating his family to keep them isolated, keeping them out of school when they had any visible injuries, and threatening them with violence. The children's mother had left some years before due to the violence she endured.
The sexual abuse began when the girls were eight and ten years old. He would call their names in the middle of the night, and even smear "fake blood" on their doors while they were sleeping. There was threatening behaviour used to enforce it including beatings, and their heads being pushed by the gas fire so they were scorched if they moved away. He threatened to kill both themselves and their children if they told anyone of the abuse. All the children said he dominated the family. To begin with, the attacks were every day, then frequently every two to three days, with the one daughter babysitting while the other was raped. He would even rape them while they were pregnant.
His two daughters had nineteen pregnancies between them, including five miscarriages, five terminations and two children dying soon after birth. Seven of their children survived. He was said to have 'taken pleasure' from the harm he was inflicting, and the fathering of the children, despite the difficult pregnancies and deaths. If they took contraceptive pills, he told them to stop it and they felt they had to obey.
Only the women's relationships with their current partners gave them the courage to come forward. Although the man at first denied the crimes, DNA testing confirmed that he was the father of the women's children. The women said his imprisonment gave them only the knowledge that he could not physically touch them again, the suffering he caused will continue for many years and they now have to concentrate on finding the strength to rebuild their lives.
Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister at the time, responded to the concerns of MPs from Sheffield, including Nick Clegg the leader of the Liberal Democrats, and David Blunkett by saying he was "outraged at the unspeakable abuse", and any changes to the system that were needed would be made.
The case had gone undetected by social services agencies and schools or hospitals, despite the numerous pregnancies, and despite the girls at times having unexplained injuries. Schools put facial injuries of the girls down to bullying. The victims had hid from hospitals that the children were fathered by their own father. The man had previously been faced with reports of the incestuous rape of his daughters in a police complaint filed by their brother, but no action was taken by the police, as they considered the brother's word to be hearsay evidence that would not hold up in court, and because the girls would not say anything, due to intimidation.
Family members reported their concerns to the authorities over two decades but nothing was done. Social workers say that because the father moved the family so often, what rare chance there was of someone disclosing incest was lessened by the girls not forming a close relationship with a teacher, other professional, or anyone. They were known to social services in both Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire, but the abuse was not recognized. The children born with learning difficulties should have raised suspicions.
The county council and police are to be investigated. The judge said although the phrase was overused, it is difficult to imagine a worse case; he had not seen a similar case in forty years of criminal law practice. No action had been taken, although there were obvious signs and agencies were suspicious, and that was why it was going to independent Serious Case Review. The review is to be conducted by professor Pat Cantrill.
Doctors were said to have failed professional guidelines of the General Medical Council by not informing the authorities, and the handling of the case, together with the failure of institutions to share information with each other, breached recommendations following a review of another case of protracted incest four years before in Swindon.
The family doctor who failed to recognise the signs had already been suspended by the GMC four years before, due to his falling below the minimum standard to the extent that he was exposing patients to risk. Before this doctor's suspension and subsequent departure from practice, the father would bring his daughters with the complications from their nineteen pregnancies and other injuries to him if they needed to see a doctor, even when they moved out of the area. The County Council's director of children's services said treatment of such cases was now handled differently from when the childhood abuse occurred.
The case coincided with several other cases in the United Kingdom which highlighted possible problems with the efficiency of child protection services. The whole country was said by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to be appalled at the crime and the many chances there may have been for the abuse — which continued for 28 years — to be stopped.
The father, shown with a pint of beer in his hand, was said by his sister-in-law to have been motivated in part by wanting to keep for himself the money paid to him by the state in child support for the numerous children. There were said to have been 150 opportunities for authorities to notice what was happening. For several months the girls tried to pay their father to stop raping them by giving him £100 a month. They gave him whisky, hoping his drinking would lead to his death. They had called ChildLine, but were not reassured that their children would not be taken from them, which their father had said would happen, so they ended the call.
- Daily Telegraph, 26th November 2008
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