"He got 30 months - we have a life sentence" - sisters who suffered years of sexual abuse speak out
PUBLISHED: 08:02 21 June 2018 | UPDATED: 11:47 21 June 2018
Two sisters subjected to years of sexual abuse at the hands of their stepfather have said the criminal justice system compounded their trauma amid months of delays.
The ordeal began for the two girls in 1998 when Justyne Betts was nine and Leanne Betts was 11.
For Justyne the abuse continued until she was 18. Leanne had by that time been taken into care, after her accusations against their stepfather were dismissed by family and the police in 2002.
Both women are now adults and have waived their automatic right of anonymity to speak to this newspaper after their abuser was jailed for 30 months.
They reported the abuse again in 2015, but it took more than two years for them to get justice through the courts, as trial dates were vacated with just three days notice.
Finally on August 22 last year, the day he was due to stand trial on 14 counts of indecent assault, sexual assault, and sexual activity with a child, Andrew Tomkins, of Blomefield Road, admitted five of the charges and was bailed. He was jailed for 30 months on October 30.
The abuse had begun one year into Tomkins’ relationship with the Betts’ mother.
“It wasn’t just abuse in a sexual way,” said Justyne, now 28. “He was mentally, physically and sexually abusive.”
“He started putting rules down to make it look like we hated him for that, not what he was doing.”
By the time Leanne was 14 she had enough and told her mother.
“He was a bully and a sexual predator,” said the 30-year-old. “I think mum was manipulated and controlled. Abusive partners do not have to hit you or put you down. They do it in such a manner they control a situation.
“I was the stubborn one with a mouth on me, and I think he knew early on I was going to say something. Because he was manipulating and controlling people seemed to believe him.”
Leanne said she became “isolated from the family” after she spoke out and was taken into care in 2002. Within three months she had made video interviews with the police about her allegations.
But no further action was taken.
Leanne said: “I didn’t give any eye contact and wasn’t engaging, so at the time they assumed I was lying. They said they have different training now and the signs I was showing in my first interview were of a classic abused child.”
Meanwhile Justyne was still living at the family home.
She said she had been “the quiet one and would not say a word” against 39-year-old Tomkins.
“I became quite a scared girl,” she added. “I was scared to go out and scared to do anything.
“As time went on it got harder and harder to tell people. I was nearly 18 when I told him to leave me alone, when I finally grew a back bone. He never did it after that.”
The girls finally felt able to speak out against Tomkins when his relationship with their mother ended. In July 2015 they gave statements to the police, and this time were believed.
But both women have said the court process was traumatising, and called on the CPS and court workers to work more sensitively with victims of abuse.
They said they felt pressured to accept Tomkins’ offer of five guilty pleas to avoid facing a trial.
“I had been branded a liar since I was 14,” said Leanne. “That is why I took the bargain plea, because I didn’t want to have to go through all that again at the trial.
“The whole court process was a joke. On the Friday before the trial in July I got a call that it had been cancelled and adjourned to a later date. They said a bigger case was going on, and that was it.
“The whole thing was really stressing me out. My anxiety was through the roof and I was angry and anxious all the time.
“In the end I started saying to them I am not coming to court. They then threatened to make me go with a warrant.
“They are not sensitive to anybody’s needs or emotions. They do not care about you as a person. You are just a number and a name on a list.
“For victims of any abuse there is always going to be mental health issues that go alongside it. It seems like the CPS and the court system do not care how the whole process affects a person mentally.”
Justyne added having their trial cancelled with three days notice was devastating.
She said: “I built myself up for the trial so much that when it was cancelled it completely broke me.
“I never suffered with mental health issues before all of this. Wounds heal but this doesn’t heal. We are stuck with this for the rest of our lives.
“They give out these stupid sentences - and we have a life sentence.”
The Harbour Centre Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) provides free support to all victims of sexual abuse. Call 01603 276381.
“Committed to helping victims”
A CPS spokesperson said the views of the Betts sisters were an “important consideration” in the decision to accept guilty pleas from Tomkins last August.
“In this case the implications of accepting guilty pleas were discussed with the victims at court before the guilty pleas were entered,” they said.
“It is unfortunate there were changes to the date of the trial in this case due to the unavailability of the court. We recognise that delays in court proceedings can be difficult for those involved, and while they are often unavoidable we do all we can, alongside police witness care teams, to minimise the impact on victims and witnesses.
“Sexual offences can be some of the most difficult cases the CPS prosecutes. We have worked hard in recent years to improve how we deal with these offences and support victims through criminal proceedings.
“We are committed to taking all practicable steps to help victims through the criminal justice system. Cases are handled by specialist prosecutors who are trained to deal with the unique challenges involved in prosecuting these offences, including understanding victim vulnerabilities and the traumatic impact of offending.”