WARNING: UPSETTING CONTENT. Maureen Wood kept her horrific childhood abuse secret for three decades, before finally feeling able to police that she had been sexually assaulted by her mother, step-father and brother
By Ann Cusack & Zoe Forsey Features Editor
- 16:45, 17 MAR 2021
- Updated16:49, 17 MAR 2021
Maureen Wood was first raped by her older brother on her ninth birthday. A year later, their step-father walked in on the abuse she felt relieved as she believed he would protect her and the nightmare would end. But he did nothing, and a few months later began abusing her too. She now had two abusers to cope with. “I hoped against hope that my mum might step in and help me. But she walked into my bedroom and called me a ‘little wh*re'”, Maureen says.
Soon after her tenth birthday, Maureen’s mother became involved with the abuse. Maureen says: “They used to make me sleep in their bed, between them, and they took it in turns to abuse me. My mum helped to get me ready for when my step-dad would rape me. It felt like the end of the world. With them all against me, I had nowhere to turn.”
Maureen kept her horrific childhood abuse a secret for three decades before telling police the horrifying things she had been through as a child. She had given birth to a son as a result of a rape by her brother but he tragically suffered a cot death. And it was the exhumation of his body, more than two decades after his death, which brought justice for his mother from beyond the grave. Maureen’s childhood torment had remained secret for most of her life, until she bravely called in police. Her abusers were jailed and Maureen launched a legal action against the social services who were supposed to have protected her. The brave mum of five was later awarded £200,000 in an out of court settlement from Staffordshire County Council. She has now written a book, entitled: ‘A Family Secret’ which will be released this week. Mum of five Maureen, 50, says: “The minute I went to the police, all my fear was lifted. It wasn’t my shame and guilt to deal with any more. By going to court, I handed the fear and shame back to my family. My baby son, Christopher, was vital to the prosecution’s case. The police had warned me that they would be unlikely to get a viable DNA sample from his body – but when he was exhumed, his body was intact and the sample was perfect. It feels as though he was looking down on me from heaven, helping me. He is a true angel my guardian angel.”
In 2015 Maureen received a settlement from social services, following a lengthy legal case in which she claimed they had failed to protect her from her brother as a child. Maureen says: “It was a kick in the teeth, I felt like I had been let down twice; by my family and then by the social workers. I took my children on a month long holiday to Disney with the money. But it doesn’t change what happened to me. I brought the case, not for the money, but to ensure that they don’t let this happen to another child.”
At Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court in October 2011, her stepfather, John Wood, then 68, was convicted of seven counts of rape and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Her 46-year-old brother John Donnelly, received two years in jail after admitting rape, incest and indecent assault. In a re-trial, her mother, Maureen Wood (senior), then 65, was found guilty of four counts of aiding and abetting the rape of a girl under 16. She was jailed in October 2011 for nine years. She says: “The abuse by my mother was, and still is, the hardest thing to process. As a mother, you nurture and protect your child but she destroyed me.”
Maureen had been placed in care at the age of three, after her parents separated. Four years later, her mother, Maureen senior, took her and her older brother, John, back out of care and they were introduced to their new step-father John Wood. When Maureen was eight, the sexual abuse began. She says: “I remember every detail of that day. We had been outside, having a water fight, and as I dried off in the bathroom, my brother, John, who we called Jock, came in and started touching me. I didn’t understand what he was doing but I knew it felt wrong and it was horrible.”
On her ninth birthday, Maureen was raped for the first time. A year later, their step-father walked in as she was being raped. Maureen says: “I felt relieved – because I thought he would stop it. I thought he would look after me.”
Instead, her step-father said nothing. And weeks later, he began abusing Maureen too. he says: “I hoped against hope that my mum might step in and help me. But she walked into my bedroom and called me a ‘little wh**e.'”
Soon after her tenth birthday, Maureen’s mother became involved with the abuse.
Despite her horrific family life, Maureen enjoyed school and did well academically. She had friends but confided in nobody. She says: “My family threatened that if I told anyone, I’d end up in care again. I was terrified of that. They said nobody would believe me and that I’d get into trouble with the police. It was difficult because, to the outside world, my parents were respectable people. They worked at a local social club and they were managers at the Masonic hall too. They were well-known and well-liked. I tried running away and once stayed away for two days. But the police found me and took me home.”
When she was 13, Maureen fell pregnant. By the time she realised, it was too late for a termination. Maureen says: “My mother was mortified; all she worried about was what the neighbours would think of her, with a 13-year-old pregnant daughter. Yet of course she knew that either her own husband or her son was the father. But she just blanked that out. The abuse stopped while I was pregnant. For the first time in my life I could remember, I wasn’t being abused and it was like a little piece of heaven. I was ordered to tell people that I was raped by a stranger but I knew, for certain, that my baby’s father was my brother.”
In October 1984, Maureen gave birth to a son, Christopher. He was born on her brother’s 19th birthday. She says: “Christopher had blond hair, blue eyes. It didn’t matter why he came about, or where he came from. He was mine. That maternal instinct kicked in immediately. I adored him with all of my heart and for the first time in my life, I felt what love was.”
But just under a month later, he suffered a cot death. Maureen discovered his body. She says: “When he died, I felt like my life had ended, my world had finished. He was the only person I truly loved. It was raining the day we buried him. I felt like the heavens were crying with me. I just wanted to die.”
After Christopher’s death, Maureen’s mother and brother stopped abusing her. But her stepfather began assaulting her again only a couple of weeks afterwards. The abuse continued until, at 16, Maureen left home. She had suffered eight years of horrific abuse. She says: “My teens were very difficult. I was grieving for Christopher and I felt very angry and confused. I drank too much and I went off the rails a bit.”
But despite finally finding happiness, Maureen was haunted by nightmares of the abuse. She realised she had to seek justice and eventually she contacted police. Maureen says: “It was 29 years since the abuse began and so the CPS insisted that the only way they would take the case to court was if the Home Office would approve an exhumation of Christopher. His DNA would prove that my brother was his father, and that I had been telling the truth. I was warned that the DNA sample was unlikely to be viable. Yet when his body was exhumed it was almost intact. The sample was perfect and it proved I had been telling the truth. It was almost as if Christopher was watching over me, helping my court case. He was and still is my guardian angel.”
Christopher’s body was exhumed in July 2009 and reburied a month later. Maureen has no pictures of him but she has the small plaque from Christopher’s original coffin. She says: “I didn’t want my baby to be exhumed. But it was the only way. The night before, I went to his grave and came away with a sense of peace. I felt I had his support.”
Maureen’s step-father, brother and mother were all convicted of the abuse. Her mother died in prison and Maureen found it in her heart to attend the funeral. She says: “My mum and step-dad never apologised. But my brother pleaded guilty and told me he was sorry. I still grieve for the childhood I didn’t have and for the mother I didn’t have. I think of Christopher every day. Writing a book is my way of making sure that my voice and the voices of so many others who suffer is heard.”
Maureen’s book is available on Amazon.