September 2008, and although my marriage after 16 years had lost its spark and we had become more like an old couple, we were still, however, relatively young at 41 and had two wonderful children aged just 12 and 10 years of age. A boy and a girl, and everyone believed I had a perfect life – I wore the mask well as many of us do.
Then one day my life just fell apart around me, literally. I found out my wife was having an affair which, being honest, wasn’t the real problem here as the real love had long gone for both of us, but the children, finances, and house were, however, a different issue. I was a great dad, very proactive, and massively involved in both of my children’s lives. When I walked away that Thursday evening I was devastated, but for the sake of the children I knew one of us had to leave and she was not willing to, so around 9:30pm I turned up at my elderly mum’s house with a small overnight bag in one hand and a bottle in the other. I knew it would be a difficult and long night ahead. A completely horrendous night, and the following day I began to inform friends and family of the split.
The following few days were terrible, the number of mixed emotions when someone goes through this type of break-up are horrendous. I was embarrassed as my wife was having an affair, believing myself to not be good enough – humiliated, what would family and friends really think? I was also angry, upset, and incredibly sad, as my own parents split up when I was 18 and I swore that would never happen to me. At that stage I had secure work and had been in my role for over 25 years, being honest, this probably saved me. It gave me purpose, a reason to get up, have a shower and shave, and forced me to meet and deal with people every day when I wanted to curl up and cry. I just cried alone at night. I didn’t sleep and wasn’t sure if I would get through this.
The next few weeks led to months and the situation got worse and worse, personal detail will remain personal, but shall we simply say that we did not appear to agree on simple things, like selling the house and simply sharing the money 50/50, the list goes on.
At this stage, I had a hidden secret that nobody in the world at this time was aware of that was causing significant harm to my own mental health. I was sexually abused as a child by my football coach, Barry Bennell, when I was just 12 years of age and, until this time, I had been able to monitor, control, and supervise who and where my children were seeing or going, etc. Now I was seeing them alternate nights, there was another man on the scene, sleeping at the same house and my children were young – my son was just 12, the same age as myself when I was sexually abused. This man was buying them presents, was he grooming them? Stupid I know now but, being honest, I slowly began to lose the plot. I couldn’t seem to function properly on the nights I wasn’t with the children. I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t even relax. Things continued to go from bad to worse as I was struggling now financially, going into debt which was growing and I was still, at aged 41, living with my mum, no real space to have my children, and no real space for me. Things continued to mount up on me and the pressure built until I broke down. The doctor tried on several occasions to put me on anti-depressants, but I knew I could cope if I could just get things moving with my ex-wife, sell the house, get some space, get my life in order, get back in the gym, and start to build a new life. For whatever reason, this took far longer than it should have and massively affected my relationship with my children, which has I believe never really recovered.
From being dad-of-the-year material I was for periods not seeing them. It was heartbreaking and very difficult to deal with. Slowly, although with difficulty, I began to feel better about myself and met a new lady, Teresa, who years later has become my wife. This brought its own problems as, trying to impress, I began to ring up more debt – also trying to spoil my children and compete with the new guy didn’t help either.
As time went by, things generally improved and got back somewhat on track, until June or July 2012. My mum announced to the family that she had cancer. We suspected she may have as she was in pain for a couple of years and had lost a lot of weight, but nothing seemed to show up on any tests. I had developed a closer and different relationship with my mum after spending two years back living with her as an adult. Her love was unconditional and special, and the news hit us all extremely hard as it would with any loving family. The sexual abuse I suffered as a child resurfaced again massively, as I had made a secret promise in 1997 that I would never disclose while my mum was alive after comments she made seeing my abuser on TV after she confronted me. I told her back then nothing happened and she commented: ‘Thank God, as I am not sure how and if I could have coped if it had.’
As my mum was slowly dying every day in front of our eyes and almost disintegrating through weight loss to this horrible disease, I began preparing to disclose to the police. I started to look for any evidence that would support my case. I went to see my mum every single day from September 2012 to her eventual death on 20th January to spend as much time as I could with this special lady. My mum’s death was such a difficult time, obviously, we had a terrible few months leading up to her death, but nothing compared to what my mum suffered as she was in so much pain towards the end, God bless her. It was the first major loss for me of an immediate family member and I took it hard. I have no idea why I went through with it, but just five days after her funeral, I took myself off to Macclesfield police station from my house in Lytham at the time to disclose the sexual abuse I suffered as a 12-year-old.
In hindsight now, I should have waited, but I didn’t – my thoughts process was: ‘Can I feel any worse than I do already?’ The answer was a resounding: ‘Yes.’ It was a mistake – I should have waited a few weeks or months or so.
To cut a long story short, after disclosing on 4th February 2013, it was early June the same year when my case was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) as it was not seen to be in the public interest to prosecute a serial multiple offending paedophile who I told them could have hundreds of victims. He had already been convicted of abusing 23 children in 1998 in the UK. They said he had served his time. Again, for the purpose of this blog, I will cut short the fight I had with the CPS to get my case looked at again. Eventually, a new panel had been formed called the National Sexual Abuse review panel, to take a fresh look at cases of childhood sexual abuse dropped by police or CPS, which my case appeal went to its first-ever meeting. After a fight of over six months, I was informed that the prosecution guidance in England had been changed in favour of prosecution in cases such as mine, effectively changing the law, in cases where a new short sentence for further offences would now be considered. However, this fight had taken its toll on me. To initially get my case dropped was devastating at a time when I had just lost my mum. I look back now and am unsure how I got through it – thank God for Teresa, the immediate adult family members I had told and my work. From disclosure to Barry Bennell finally being prosecuted in May 2015 it had been a period of two years and three months, and not a single day went by during that period where I slept well or could concentrate on anything else at all.
Trying to cope during this period was difficult, so how did I manage it? Well, I suppose I was extremely busy, I kept myself fit through plenty of exercise, I spoke to family and my wife about my concerns and, of course, I went through two years of counselling. This was the time that I decided I wanted to look at a change of career. I felt, at this stage of my life, that I had lots of empathy, life experience, a caring attitude, and felt that I would like to go into this as a career in the future and help others. At this stage, I wasn’t ready though, but the plan was hatched. I needed to be in a better place myself first, I wasn’t even close in 2015.
Later that same year (December 2015) my dad passed away after a long period of illness and although we didn’t have the same kind of relationship as adults that I had with my mum, as a child growing up my dad was very much my hero and biggest fan on my journey to almost becoming a professional footballer. In the end, I fell short – played over 50 reserve games for Preston North End and spending three seasons at Deepdale from October 1983 to May 1986. I had broken my dad’s heart in 2013 when police turned up at his door and asked for his statement and informed him that I was sexually abused as a child. The police informed my dad as, after disclosure, the police informed me not to speak to my dad about this until they had interviewed him, to ensure I didn’t put words into his mouth, coach him and as such, they wanted to get his statement cold. My dad was hurt that afternoon. I saw him immediately afterwards – he was not a well man. On his death bed just two years later, he was apologising to me for taking me and leaving me for two nights with a serial paedophile. I never blamed my parents ever.
In April 2016, I was made aware by police that two other men had disclosed after they saw the press cuttings from Bennell’s conviction from myself in May 2015. I was also informed by police after the ex-professional footballer told his story in November 2016 that he had also seen his conviction for me, so when the story broke in November 2016 in the national headlines, it became a huge story, as this was no longer an old story from 1998. It was very much current – Bennell had just served 12 months and was out on parole for his offences to myself, and another serious case was already with CPS and ready for charge. The story broke, especially as it was about Manchester City, and the abuse within football scandal was highlighted across the world.
Eventually, Sky News asked me if I would like to tell the story about what really happened and how police and CPS had failed me initially in 2013. From walking in that police station in February 2013 to July 2020, there were cases or ongoing investigations into Barry Bennell for the whole period. Over the seven years. I don’t believe a day went by during that period where I had any peace from him. Do I regret it? Absolutely not. During this seven-year period of time, I lost my dad, my stepdad, was made redundant after over 35 years of employment, disclosed my own sexual abuse to the national media, which was incredibly difficult for so many friends and family, began my counselling career education, bought our own home, got married to Teresa, began in a new completely different job role, although still working in the community and leisure field of Fylde Borough, the area I grew up in, which I have now done non-stop for almost 38 years. I am very proud of this fact. I have also been actively raising awareness and speaking publically around the subjects of abuse and mental health, as speaking out and talking is a massive help to me and I know many others also.
The last 13 years of my life have been so difficult, but have also been so rewarding. I am now three years into my four-year counselling education to qualify and, completing this course while also working full time, it’s certainly been a challenge. I am now 53 and was not great in school at all, things just didn’t stick, so to go back to college in my early 50s was incredibly difficult, but if you want something badly enough then you have to give it your full commitment. I will qualify in June 2022, no ifs or buts.
So April 2021, happily married, our own home, no personal debt to anyone, trainee counsellor, just completed my first hour with a client, a completely new job role, a sense of pride, purpose in my life, and a direction and future plan. It’s been a difficult journey, but life is certainly not easy.
When I was 41 looking back, I had been so lucky in many respects, then the last almost 13 years – wow, how things have changed. Letting go of the past was not easy, but although I still have some very personal ongoing issues, which I do struggle with, I am doing my best to carry on and stay motivated. Would I say I am fine, 100%? Absolutely not, but I look after me.
Believe in yourself and good luck to you all in the future.
David Lean is a mental health advocate. David runs the blog My Truth and hosts various podcasts.