Northern Ireland

Impartial Reporter's Edwards: How paper revealed Fermanagh abuse secrets

Rodney Edwards
Image caption Numerous victims have told their story to journalist Rodney Edwards

In March, a man walked into the offices of the Impartial Reporter in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh's biggest town.

He wanted to speak about how he was sexually abused years ago as a child by paedophiles in the public toilets just up the street.

When the paper printed the story, it opened a flood-gate on a deluge of emails, texts, letters and phone calls to the newspaper from readers with allegations of child sex abuse dating back decades.

Rodney Edwards, the paper's deputy editor, took on the story.

Through headline after headline, week after week, each report with its own harrowing story, Mr Edwards and the Impartial Reporter, have given victims a voice.

Alleged victims have told their disturbing stories of abuse that spanned all areas of this rural community; Protestant and Catholic backgrounds, rich and poor, men and women.

So far 60 people have come forward, naming more than 60 alleged perpetrators.

Breaking their silence

How did this small Fermanagh paper, with a staff of just five reporters, crack open one of Northern Ireland's biggest child sex-abuse scandals?

Image caption The weekly paper invited survivors to trust Edwards to tell their stories

The Impartial Reporter has been covering local news from its Enniskillen offices for 180 years.

Mr Edwards has just marked 10 years at the paper, but said: "It's only really now I get a sense of achievement; this is probably the most important thing I'll get to do.

The paper invited survivors to trust Mr Edwards to tell their stories.

"The response has been unprecedented with people getting in touch with sexual abuse claims right across the county," he said.

In his office looking the town's main street, Mr Edwards pulled open a desk drawer to reveal dozens of handwritten letters, all from people writing about their abuse.

Some had never spoken out before about what had happened to them.

Raw memories

"John" is one of those. After seeing the stories in the paper, he emailed Mr Edwards one Saturday night.

He wrote about how he was abused by a local bus driver, David Sullivan, from the age of 12 to 16.

Image caption Bus driver David Sullivan had ready access to young people

David Sullivan was found murdered in 2001; no-one has ever been charged in connection with his murder.

John is a strapping big man, successful in his career, married with children.

He fiddles with his mobile phone as he speaks.

"I never told anybody about it. I spent 30 years probably running from this," he said.

He wanted to tell his story as a way to force himself to tell his wife, who has been his partner since he was 16.

Mr Edwards was the first person he had spoken to about it. The memories were still raw.

John offered to take us to places where the abuse took place.

Image caption The Impartial Reporter has just five reporters working from its Enniskillen offices

We drove to to Dolan's Ring, and parked in a secluded lay-by surrounded by trees overlooking a fishing jetty nestled beside Lough Erne.

John began to speak. He said it was the first time he has been back to the site since the day he was first abused by David Sullivan.

He was 12.

"I can remember I kept saying: 'No, no, I want to go home'," he said.

"It was horrific. About 10 minutes later it was over and I got dropped home and that was it."

John says he knows at least 20 other victims of David Sullivan, who he said had ready access to young people.

"It was constant and you would see it all the time," he said.

'Pulling the scab off'

"Sara" spoke to Rodney Edwards about the sexual abuse she says she suffered as a child during band practice in and around Orange halls.

The Grand Lodge of Ireland said at the time the allegations she made were serious, and that it would co-operate with any police investigation.

Image copyright Impartial Reporter
Image caption The story has dominated the front pages of the Impartial Reporter this year

The PSNI has set up a special task force to examine the alleged crimes reported to the Impartial Reporter.

Over the years, Sara has had a difficult time dealing with what she says happened to her.

A recovering alcoholic, she had a breakdown and even tried to take her own life.

From her kitchen, adorned with inspirational slogans on fridge magnets and dream catchers by the open window, she said she felt like she was in a dream, now that she was finally able to tell her story.

Fermanagh is going through an awakening, she said - finally facing up to the sexual abuse that was prolific, but hidden and not spoken about for so long.

"We are taking the scab off a wound, a wound that is full of all the rotten, dirty germs and scum and the filth that has been buried in there for years and years," she said.

"We are gently now pulling the scab off and we are revealing this poison, this toxin that has been running through our society here for all of my lifetime."

Silent No More: Fermanagh's Abused Children is on BBC Radio Ulster's Stories in Sound at 1230 on Sunday 6 October.

Information and advice

If you or someone you know has been affected by child sexual abuse, sexual abuse or violence, help is available. Find support through BBC Action Line.

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