Leeds & West Yorkshire

Elliott Appleyard abuse: Daughter's 35-year fight for justice

Carol Higgins, Paul Appleyard Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Carol Higgins, pictured when she was 14 with brother Paul (centre) and half-sister Donna (right)

Carol Higgins was scouring skips for scrap metal with her father when he unexpectedly shot the family dog dead in front of her, then proceeded to "snog" her.

This was just the beginning of the repeated abuse the then 12-year-old suffered from Elliott Appleyard, who has been jailed for 20 years for sexual offences including rape and indecent assault.

Growing up in Denby Dale, West Yorkshire in the 1980s, Appleyard maintained his grip on Carol, her half-sister Donna and brother Paul with regular threats of violence.

His then-wife Jean was threatened with a machete for having a "sex dream", with Appleyard pointing a legally-owned 12-bore shotgun at her head during an argument.

During Appleyard's trial, Jean told the jury: "If [the children] went to phone the police, he'd shoot me."

After fleeing the house with her mother, Carol returned to the home on Gilthwaites Crescent eight months later due to her strained relationship with her mother and her need to see her siblings.

The abuse then escalated.

Image copyright West Yorkshire Police
Image caption Elliott Appleyard "manipulated, groomed, controlled and emotionally oppressed" his daughter, his trial was told

"I wish somebody on the streets would have raped me so I'd have had my mum and dad to support me, but it was never like that, so I made my friends my family," Miss Higgins, now 49, said.

"I'll always feel sad, I feel emotional now talking about it, the pain will never go away, but I've got enough courage to rebuild and to heal."

Appleyard would play fight with his daughter, but leave her with bites on her neck so deep they would turn "blue, black and purple".

While he was away in the US on a hunting trip in the Appalachian Mountains, 13-year-old Carol held a party at the house with her friends.

During an interview with police in November 2015, Miss Higgins said her father was "furious" when he returned, causing her to self-harm for the first time.

"I started cutting my wrist, I'd never done it before. My dad started bandaging up and said, 'you're too mentally disturbed to sleep by yourself tonight'.

"He cuddled up to me... he started touching me in places, took a condom out of the drawer and started having sex with me."

She added: "It became an everyday occurrence."

Image copyright Google
Image caption The majority of the abuse took place at the family home in Gilthwaites Crescent, Denby Dale

During the trial, Peter Hampton, prosecuting, said: "He manipulated, groomed, controlled and emotionally oppressed his daughter.

"At the time she was vulnerable and felt abandoned by her mother, who was living elsewhere, she became conditioned to comply with his perverted sexual demands."

Miss Higgins said: "You feel jealous of other people because you don't have that support; it's a lonely place to be and it's scary.

"I used to wake up in the morning with a scary feeling in my tummy because I didn't have anyone to love me in a way that I wanted to be loved."

She added: "I used to think, why me, why does this have to happen to me?"

Image caption Carol Higgins, pictured outside Leeds Crown Court with her partner Del Powell shortly after Appleyard's conviction

She often thought of running away, but was told by social services she could end up in a children's home - a thought that "terrified" her, Mr Hampton said.

Appleyard placed his estranged wife's engagement ring on her daughter's finger when she was 14 and took sexual photographs of her, police were told.

She was also taken to a tattoo parlour in Barnsley to have a declaration of love inked on her shoulder. It took 10 "painful" acid treatments to have it removed in later life.

During the police interview, she said: "I'd hear his footsteps coming in from the pub and coming upstairs, I'd think 'please, please', as sometimes he'd go straight past. Most of the time he didn't.

"I'd be asleep or pretending to be asleep, he'd grab my arm and take me to his room at the other end of the landing."

She added: "I was just confused, I didn't know what was going on and what was normal. I was just complicit for everything he wanted me to do.

"I'm angry at myself for not doing anything about it, for making him believe that it was all right, for not kicking and screaming."

Image copyright CAROL HIGGINS
Image caption Miss Higgins, an "adrenaline junkie", says she's tried to fill her life with positives

Despite feeling she had no escape, she eventually ran away from home and told police what had been happening.

She gave a 17-page statement to officers in 1985, but was encouraged not to take the matter any further as it would "blacken" her name.

Miss Higgins said: "It's taken me 35 years and five attempts to keep knocking on that door - I'd say to anybody, never give up fighting for justice.

"Go speak your truth to the police and make sure your voice is heard and never give up."

West Yorkshire Police is investigating a complaint relating to the case and said it was unable to comment further.

In recent years, Miss Higgins, a mother of two and a self-confessed "adrenaline junkie", has recovered from cancer and accomplished an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro.

"I fill my life with positives and always try to overcome the negative barriers," she said.

"This has been the biggest mountain I've ever had to climb and I feel like I'm at the summit now, I can put the flag in, climb back down and get on with the rest of my life."

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