Grooming trial: ‘I’ve lived and breathed this case, in court and out’

Friday 17 May 2013, 13:22

Alex Forsyth Alex Forsyth is home affairs correspondent, BBC South

Seven men are due to be sentenced for rape, child prostitution and trafficking after the lengthy and traumatic Oxford grooming trial which concluded this week.

Many of the details of the abuse of girls as young as 11 were too shocking to report. In the second of two blog posts by BBC journalists who sat through the gruelling evidence in the four-month trial, Alex Forsyth of BBC South describes how the experience affected her:

Bedroom where girls were abused I am not used to working on a story for more than a few weeks at most. Even on long-running court cases I will dip in and out, attending for the most interesting evidence but working on other stories in between.

Operation Bullfinch, the name that Thames Valley Police gave its investigation, was different. From the moment we heard about the police raids and arrests in March last year we knew this was going to be a huge story.

A few months before the court case started it was decided I’d lead our coverage for TV, radio and online. For the past five months I’ve lived and breathed this case, both in court and out. It has become all-consuming. I have missed family birthdays and cancelled a weekend break with friends. While the jury was deliberating my partner travelled to the Persian Gulf and back and I barely noticed.

Right up until the start of the trial the details had been kept very quiet. Usually by the pre-trial briefing you have a good idea of what the case will involve, but not with Bullfinch. I knew men were accused of grooming and exploiting young girls on a serious scale. But my first real inkling of exactly what was done to these children came when I was handed the prosecutor’s opening speech minutes before he began to deliver it.

Oxford child abuse victim On the packed press bench, those of us lucky enough to have grabbed a copy were poring over the details, eager to see what was in store. By the third or fourth page every reporter was still and silent. Phrases and words stood out. The girls had been beaten, bitten and burnt, tied up and gagged, suffocated, tortured and repeatedly raped for days on end by a stream of men - humiliated and degraded in the most horrifying ways. They lived through things I could never imagine.

For me, the second girl to give evidence was the most difficult part. She stood in the witness box, dressed in her smart suit and heels, literally keeping her chin up - although her voice quivered and hands shook. She refused a screen in favour of looking these men in the eye.

She spoke so eloquently about what had happened. It was heart-breaking to see her square her shoulders and fight back tears as she explained why the trinkets, gifts and ‘pink bubbly’ drink made her 13-year-old self feel special.

As she was made to recount in excruciating detail exactly what was done to her, she sobbed. You could not fail to be moved. I cannot bring myself to write the things she had to say, in a court room of 20 barristers, with an open public gallery, and in front of her abusers.

She showed immense courage, as did every victim in this case.

I have met one of them. Now a young woman, she agreed to an interview. She wanted to speak out to help others. She told me, despite how hard it was, the court experience helped her and she felt stronger for it.

There is no doubt this was more than just another court case for me. But when my endlessly supportive colleagues, managers, friends and family ask me if I’m OK, or whether I need anyone to talk to, I can honestly say I’m fine. I will remember the most difficult details for some time, but these young women who suffered so much needed to be heard and, most importantly, they needed to be believed.

They were. These girls had to live through their stories - I just had to listen to them.

 

Trauma of reporting Oxford grooming trial: ‘My worst fears realised’

Trauma in journalism

Dealing with trauma

Supporting colleagues who have suffered trauma

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