It was some years later that I realised what an impact my silence had on so many other people. I had not blissfully forgotten about it but I was at a point where I was more comfortable with life. I was studying at Tertiary College which I was really enjoying and I had begun to integrate with the other students, I was still spending most weekends alone or out with my dog on long walks but I was getting better at being around other people. That changed dramatically when I received a letter from the Police asking me to contact them at my convenience in order to assist with an enquiry. It came completely out of the blue and my first reaction was to wonder what I had done wrong. I went along to the local Police Station with the letter and spoke to a Police Officer on the desk there, he went away to make some calls and then came back and asked if I would be able to go a different, larger Police Station, in another town. I said I could get a bus along and asked if he knew why I needed to go there, what had I done? I’ll never forget the way he looked at me – almost as if he was about to cry and then he let out a deep sigh before saying, “You haven’t done anything wrong petal but there’s Detective in X Station that needs to speak to you about an investigation they are conducting as you might have witnessed something and be able to help them.” I asked what it was I might have witnessed but he wouldn’t tell me anything more, he offered to arrange for transport to the other Station and said I was welcome to take a friend or relative with me if I wanted to; he kept re-iterating that I wasn’t in any trouble and that I shouldn’t worry about it which actually made me feel more nervous rather than reassured.
Eventually I told the Officer that I would just get a bus along and he said he would phone ahead so that they were aware I would be coming in. I didn’t for a minute contemplate that it could have had anything to do with P&Co, I’ve no idea why but it was in actual fact the furthest thing from my mind at that point.
Despite the fact that they had been expecting me I was kept waiting for what seemed like an eternity when I arrived albeit it was probably only five minutes in reality. In the end a lady came out to speak to me and asked if I was ok to talk to her for a while in private. We went into a room which had armchairs in; it was like someone’s living room and not at all what I expected. She introduced herself and asked me some basic questions about my age, address and so on. She then told me that I might not remember much about what they needed to speak to me about as it was a long time ago. My first thought was that it was about the arson attack on the take-away were my first friend from school had lived with her parents. She then brought out some photographs of P, K, Q and some other men that I didn’t recognize she asked me if I remembered them from the estate where I used to live, they looked different to how I remembered them but I knew them alright. I could hardly breathe let alone speak and the lady’s voice seemed to come from a long way away when she asked if I was ok, it was like she was speaking to me from the end of a tunnel. I nodded my head and she asked me again if I knew them, I nodded again as my mind started to recall all the things we had done, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in big trouble despite everyone’s reassurances and I decided that I would say as little as possible. She asked me how I knew them and if I could recall any interactions I had with them, she said it was ok if I couldn’t remember anything as it was a long time ago and I said I barely remembered them but I did know of them.
She then told me that she had some distressing news for me and asked if I wanted to call anyone in to support me, I didn’t understand where this was going but I declined her offer, I couldn’t think of anyone I could call and I told her as much. She explained to me that they had arrested all of these people and that during a search of their property they found a number of items relating to child pornography which included Polaroid photographs and that I had been in some of the photographs. She asked if I had any memory of photographs being taken of me and told me that I may not remember any of it as they had also found evidence that they had been using strong sedatives in fizzy drinks and milkshakes which they had been giving to kids on the estate in order to make them forget things. I remembered all those delicious milkshakes that K had given me over the years and I felt very, very sick. I had no memory of a Polaroid camera but I did remember drinking plenty milkshakes, I asked the lady what had been in the photographs and she told me that I wouldn’t be able to see them as they were evidence in an ongoing case and they had not yet identified everyone. At that point I finally realised how bad this was, I asked her how many other local kids had been involved and she said they couldn’t tell me but it appeared that they had been doing this for some time. She asked me again if she could call someone to support me as it was a lot to take in but I said no, I didn’t want anyone. She asked me again if I remembered anything that had happened during my interactions with P&Co and to this day I have no idea why but I told her I couldn’t remember anything, I think I wanted it to just all go away and thought that if I could bury it then I wouldn’t be bothered by it. She kept reassuring me that it was ok if I couldn’t remember anything and told me that they had already been charged with a number of offences which would hopefully ensure they got a long prison sentence, it was at that point that I realised what an impact my remaining silent had on other people – if I had said something earlier then all these people could have been spared. I know it wasn’t my fault that others suffered but I feel ashamed that I didn’t help, I was too wrapped up in my own feelings to consider the possible repercussions of my silence.
The lady gave me a card and asked me to call her if there was anything I remembered and assured me that I was not in any trouble nor did they think there was any danger in my coming forward with information. She then advised me to see a doctor and get a well woman check up as a precautionary measure, I didn’t really understand what she meant at first but she then explained that it would be wise to get checked for possible STIs and blood borne diseases, she told me that if I didn’t want to go to my GP then they could recommend a specialist clinic that would do the tests in confidence. I asked her if there was a likelihood that I had caught something from them and she said she couldn’t say but that it would be prudent to get checked out and try to get access to support.
I left the Police station in something of a daze with a bundle of leaflets and telephone numbers. When I got home I went to my bedroom and tried to make sense of everything, I was all over the place emotionally – tearful one minute and angry the next. I wish I had been able to speak to someone at that point but I had no one to turn to.