A grandmother who suffered a nine-year campaign of sexual abuse more than 40 years ago has broken her silence as her attacker is brought to justice.
The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, spoke out after retired Leyland Motors worker William Altham, of Bleasdale Street East, Deepdale, Preston, was found guilty of a string of sexual attacks on her as a little girl.
Altham, now 84, was prosecuted despite suffering with dementia and the case has re-ignited debate about whether more efforts should be made to prosecute offenders in similar circumstances.
Today, his victim said: “This decision isn’t just of massive significance to me, it is to other victims too.”
DC Donna Houlton-Pinder, of Lancashire Police, said: “This case has proven that it is never too late to report such offences to the police.
“We will do everything possible to pursue those people who commit such horrendous offences, no matter how much time has passed.”
Prosecutors were able to rely on a video interview Altham had already given about the allegations when the probe first began in 2013 and while he was still fit.
The married mum, now in her 40s, was forced to tell jurors how Altham would play games with her as a way of instigating the abuse.
Speaking from her Preston home, supported by her best friend, she says: “People probably wonder why I didn’t tell anyone - but how do you tell anyone something like that, especially when you are scared? Is there ever the right time?
“I carried it with me for all those years. I don’t think anybody realises the impact something like this has on you.
“Not only did I re-live it, I re-lived it in front of 12 strangers (in court). It was like a part of me became detached, listening to what was said, and feeling sorry for this little girl giving evidence.
“Even his car registration was imprinted on my mind. I could see everything he did to me - it was vivid.
“When they believed me it was such a relief.”
Altham was deemed not fit enough to attend the proceedings against him through his trial, but was brought into the court for the verdicts earlier this month.
He was convicted of three rapes, an indecent assault and gross indecency with a child.
His victim received counselling from Preston Domestic Violence Services throughout the case, which she says helped her be strong when detailing the ordeal in court.
Although each prosecution is judged on its own merits, including available evidence, the woman still believes it could give hope to others who are in a situation where they think their abuser is too elderly or infirm for action to be taken.
She says: “The decision isn’t just of massive significance to me, it is to other victims too. I hope it encourages other people not to suffer in silence whether it was a week ago or 40 years ago.
“He may not go to prison as such, which makes me regret not coming forward sooner, but everyone knows what he did now.”
Altham’s case gives “validation” to other victims of non recent abuse, according to national support charity NAPAC (The National Association for People Abused in Childhood).
The charity’s survivor support manager Jon Bird said: “Police are taking reports of non recent abuse much more seriously than the pre Savile era.
“The national police team, Operation Hydrant, say in many cases, even if someone is dead, they are still interested to look at it because they could be linked to other offenders. There’s a much wider picture of public safety and child protection.
“But also from point of view of the people who suffered, who are thinking about the abuse every day of their adult lives, seeing a result like this is a step towards healing. It’s that validation of seeing a perpetrator, even if it’s not their own perpetrator, brought to justice even if they are frail and older now.
“At the top of anyone’s wishlist is they want child abuse to stop, so it can be quite encouraging to see police are taking action in such cases.”
He also said the case may cause other perpetrators to be “shaking in their boots”.
He added: “These people who thought they got away with it all those years ago will undoubtedly be shaking in their boots - and we want them to be.”
In the wake of the case, Lancashire police is encouraging victims of abuse, no matter how long ago, to come forward.
More than 500 crimes involving the sexual abuse of children were recorded in the county in the first three months of this financial year, police figures have shown.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show police recorded 44 offences of sexual activity involving a child under 13, a further 142 involving a child under 16, 151 sex assaults on girls over 13 and 67 assaults on girls under 13.
There were 20 sexual assaults recorded on boys over 13 and 18 on boys under 13.
In the same period 22 rapes of girls under 13 were recorded, with 23 rapes of girls under 16.
There were also 23 rapes of boys under 13, and six of boys under 16. Though there is no breakdown of the timescale of the allegations it is thought several relate to non-recent allegations.
Det Con Donna Houlton-Pinder, of Lancashire Police, said: “This case has proven that it is never too late to report such offences to the police.
“We will do everything possible to pursue those people who commit such horrendous offences, no matter how much time has passed.
“I would urge anyone who has been the victim of a sexual offence to come forward and report it to us, safe in the knowledge that they will be treated sensitively and professionally at all times.”
Joanne Cunliffe, head of the North West CPS’s Rape and Serious Sexual Offences unit, said: “We encourage victims to come forward to the police if they feel a crime has been committed, no matter how long ago it was. Victims and complainants of sexual offences receive lifelong anonymity.
“We take all the circumstances into account in order to make fair and impartial decisions to help secure justice wherever possible for victims, witnesses, defendants and the public.
“When a file of evidence is passed to the CPS for a charging decision, we review each individual case on its own merits in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. We apply two stages; firstly whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. The next stage is to decide whether it is in the public interest to bring a prosecution.”
Altham will be sentenced at Preston Crown Court on March 3.
Anyone affected by abuse, even if it is not recent, can contact the police on 101.
If anyone has any current concerns for a child, they can always contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for support and advice.
Childline is also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 11 11 or at www.childline.org.uk