“In April 2007, foster mother Eunice Spry was sentenced to 14 years in prison for abusing children in her care. She beat the youngsters with metal bars and made them eat vomit. On Saturday, in our first extract from a new memoir, one of Spry’s victims, ALLOMA GILBERT, revealed how she survived her ordeal. Here, in the final part, she describes how Spry allowed her to be sexually abused – and the bitter-sweet moment her tormentor was brought to justice…
My foster mother was incandescent with rage. “What’s this?” she barked, holding up a bag of porridge oats. I knew better than to say “a bag of porridge oats” – that would certainly have earned me a beating, or worse. There was obviously something seriously wrong.
“You left it out,” continued Eunice accusingly, tipping the bag’s contents on to the kitchen table. I could see that mixed in with the oats were little brown lumps – mouse or even rat droppings.
There had, I knew, been some rats recently around the dilapidated old farm where we lived, and I dare say she was right that I had forgotten to put the bag away the day before.
Eunice said nothing more, but scraped up the oats and put them into a saucepan, droppings and all. She then poured in some water, and stirred.
“I’ll make your breakfast for you,” she said.
When the concoction was cooked, she spooned a large, steaming helping into a bowl. It was a far bigger portion than she would usually allow me for breakfast – Eunice was unbelievably mean with food.
She handed me a spoon. “Eat it,” she commanded.
When I didn’t move, Eunice pushed the spoon into the bowl and brought it up against my closed lips. “Open wide.”
It was pointless to resist. Obediently, I opened my mouth and swallowed the vile mixture. It tasted like the soles of my Wellingtons after I’d cleaned out the chicken shed.
My gorge rose and I could see a glint in Eunice’s eyes – her satisfaction would be complete if I threw up there and then.
But I didn’t. Instead, I fought to turn myself off at the emotional mains and ate the whole lot.
I could tell Eunice was waiting for me to give up so that she could give me a beating, but I was determined to show her what I was made of.
She was obviously disappointed. “Well, you do that again and you’ll get it again,” she said.
By now my stomach was churning. I have to hold it down now, I told myself. Just blank yourself out.
Eunice started tidying up and I feigned as much nonchalance as I could muster. I could feel my gorge rising again, but I swallowed hard as saliva filled my mouth and kept my face as blank as I could. Slowly, I moved towards the kitchen door.
The second I was out of Eunice’s sight, I ran like the clappers down the field, where I threw up the entire contents of my poisoned stomach.
But I hadn’t given her the satisfaction of seeing it. And most important of all, I had chalked one up to me in our battle of wills.
If my childhood with my foster mother Eunice Spry had been traumatic – as I described in this paper on Saturday – my young womanhood, before I finally escaped from her evil clutches at 17, was quite appalling in its physical and psychological brutality.
At least when I was young I had been to school for part of the time, having contact with other adults and children.
I had even very occasionally seen my natural parents. Now I was being taught at home and living as a virtual prisoner, half-starved, on a rundown farm in the middle of nowhere.
I also hadn’t had any contact with my family for years.
I still wonder whether Eunice used to lie in bed at night thinking of the next horrible thing she would do to us all. Certainly, some of her punishments involved a good deal of ingenuity on her part.
One of her favourites was a torture she’d devised, known as the “invisible chair”.
We had to crouch down on our haunches in a sitting position, with our backs or shoulders leaning against the wall, sort of squatting, and we’d have to stay there for ten minutes to an hour, maybe even two.
I found it incredibly difficult to stay upright, and my legs ached terribly, so I’d often fall over.
But Eunice would watch and hit me with a stick, or shout that I had to get back into the upright, crouching position in the invisible chair and stay there until she was satisfied.
Later, when I got a bit older, the punishments changed slightly to cause me the maximum psychological and physical discomfort.
Eunice would sometimes, for example, make me stand naked at the end of her bed – something I found hideously embarrassing, as I was extremely self-conscious about my developing body.
If she fell asleep I’d quickly cover myself up, or lie down on the floor. But then she’d wake up again and shake me or shout at me, and I had to spring back to my standing position. Naked again, all night long.
Eunice’s attitude to nakedness and sex was somewhat ambivalent, and made life very confusing for us as growing teenagers.
On the one hand she would say it was natural and fine for us children to be naked, but at the same time she was also very prudish about anything to do with sex or sexuality, perhaps because of her strict interpretation of her Jehovah’s Witness faith.
During those years of puberty she certainly gave us no sex education or guidance to prepare us for the adult world, and because we never mixed with other young people, we were completely ignorant of the most basic facts of life.
As a result, I was completely unprepared for a catalogue of sexual abuse I suffered over a period of many years at the hands of one of Eunice’s old friends, a man I shall call Kevin.
I don’t know where Eunice knew him from but he was quite a rough type who seemed very interested in my developing body.
Whenever he came to visit, he would make me sit on his lap while he put his arms round me. Then he would put his hands on my legs and move them up my thighs.
One day, he put his hands on my crotch. “You know, you’re a very attractive girl,” he said in a leering voice, which completely freaked me out. I had no idea what was going on.
Another time, Kevin sat me on his lap and told me to touch his trousers in the crotch area. “Go on,” he said. “I’ll give you a quid if you touch it.”
By “it” I sort of guessed he meant his penis, as I knew men were different.
I was utterly confused and didn’t feel right about what was going on between us but I suppose, on some strange level, Kevin provided me with human contact, some kind of touch and warped affection – so starved was I of love and attention after years and years with Eunice.
Later, when I was around 16, Eunice even seemed to want to encourage Kevin’s behaviour towards me, telling me how much he liked me, as if she were matchmaking.
On one occasion, when we went on a holiday with him, she even made us share a room together, albeit with one of the other children.
I protested, but even then Kevin continued to molest me and indulge in gross indecency in my presence.
I spent literally years trying to convince him that I wasn’t interested. When I finally succeeded, he became extremely aggressive and unpleasant.
Compared with all this, something else that Eunice made us do was probably quite benign, although it still makes my stomach churn when I think about it.
She used to make us give her a massage, as though we were her young slaves.
She would lie on the floor or on a sofa and read a women’s magazine and we would have to massage her feet and her back.
It was revolting to have to touch and give pleasure to this woman who hurt us so much.
Also, I found her physically disgusting, and as I was being told to pick the dead skin off her flat feet, or massage her bony shoulders, I would look with fascination at her saggy boobs hanging around her armpits, or her dry wrinkly skin.
Afterwards, we would laugh about it together and mimic her, although very quietly. It was one of the few times we were united against her.
I’ve never really been sure why Eunice took on children after her own two daughters had grown up, but I’m convinced that part of the reason was that she saw us as a financial meal ticket.
The allowances she was paid for looking after us gave her a good source of income – although she was always after more.
For example, she worked out that if she had us registered as disabled for some reason, she would get more money.
So at different times during our childhoods Eunice campaigned to get me diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum.
She would be eligible for disability carer’s allowance for each child, if she succeeded.
So it was only a matter of time before Eunice decided, when I was about 12, that I was a suitable candidate for some “treatment” and I was taken to see a psychologist.
Before I went into the room to meet the doctor, Eunice primed me on how I was to behave, on pain of punishment if I didn’t.
I had to pose as if I had Asperger syndrome. She had done her research carefully and explained I had to be very inarticulate and shut down.
I had to say absolutely nothing if I was spoken to, and not reply if I was asked a question directly. I had to keep my head down, look at the floor and she would do all the talking.
On this occasion, however, the psychologist smelled a rat. For some reason, and I don’t know why, the psychologist did not buy into the Asperger’s stunt and sent us home without a prescription.
As I left her office, she said: “I think you’re playing games with me.” I wanted to burst out laughing.
Eunice was, of course, utterly furious and told me I would be dealt with the minute we got back to the farm.
Once home, and after a thorough beating, Eunice decided to see for herself if I had Asperger or not, and gave me some of the other children’s prescriptions of Ritalin for a week.
From an adult perspective, and as a mother myself now, I believe it was not only incredibly dangerous to give me drugs prescribed for somebody else but also evil and utterly irresponsible because, in doing so, Eunice set me off in a direction which, until then, I didn’t know existed.
I got hooked on the drugs – they brought me complete psychological relief from all the isolation, fear and pain that I was experiencing.
Every day I helped myself to her supply, taking around ten or 12 tablets. Later, I’d be taking 14 or 16.
Eunice had hoarded so many pills – I guess she kept getting repeat prescriptions – that she didn’t notice her stash was going down. So I continued to take Ritalin for a long time, probably three years or more.
I have mentioned that we were badly and erratically fed, and as a result were all extremely thin.
Eunice noticed, however, that by the time I was in my teens I enjoyed the fact that I had a slim figure – it made me feel as though I might be attractive.
Since happiness was not allowed, now that I wanted to be thin, she decided maliciously that she had to do something about it.
Eunice had a new eating plan: I was to eat lard. A whole pound before every meal. “You need fattening up,” she’d say.
I had really never eaten anything so revolting in all my life. Even the rat-poo porridge was not as bad as having to fill my mouth and my system with this stinking, oily, piggy-smelling gunge.
To this day, the smell of sausages cooking still turns my stomach.
By the time I was nearly 17, I had been enduring Eunice’s hideous regime for a decade and, very gradually, it was beginning to dawn on me that I might be able to make my own way in the world.
I used to take our dog for long walks, which gave me a real taste of freedom. These stolen moments without being watched helped a new idea crystallise in my mind – scary, but also exciting.
I had reached an emotional and psychological crossroads.
I started to drop enormous hints to Eunice, and she must have got sick of my nagging, because one day she suddenly said: “You’ll be leaving tomorrow, so you’d better get yourself sorted. Be ready by nine in the morning – I’ll drive you.”
Without even saying goodbye to the others the next morning, I clambered into the car, wondering where my destiny lay.
“I’m taking you to Bristol,” Eunice piped up suddenly.
Bristol? I knew nothing about Bristol. Why there?
“You’ll be in a youth hostel. I’ll pay your rent for a month.”
Perhaps she hoped that by taking me to a huge city she could ensure I didn’t meet anybody I knew and spill the beans, or maybe she thought I’d be unable to survive and come crawling home again.
Either way, what she did that day when she walked away from the youth hostel was effectively to abandon me.
I had no knowledge of how to survive on my own, no funds, no phone, no list of people to turn to if I needed help. I had nothing.
The months that followed my release from Eunice could be described as the very steepest of learning curves.
With the help of a charity for homeless people, I found accommodation in various hostels around the city and learned how to apply for both benefits and employment.
Off the leash at last, I caught up on my lost youth in what I now call my “wild time”.
I tried drink and drugs of various kinds and discovered for the first time in my life my ability to attract men of my own sort of age.
This was not a positive experience. I was, I believe, the victim of an attempted date rape, and I had several other fleeting and unsatisfactory sexual encounters.
By the time I was 18, I was pregnant by a man I’d met while working in McDonald’s.
The relationship was never going to last more than a few months, and so I became a single mother, living alone with my baby girl in council accommodation at the age of just 19.
It was very difficult at first. I had no idea what to do, and although I was still with my baby’s father, he was unsupportive.
Perhaps because I was having such a tough time, one day in August 2004, when my daughter, Ivy, was three months old, I finally decided it was time to track down my parents, which I did by writing to every address in the road where they used to live to see if anybody knew where they’d gone.
Our first meeting was very emotional and a bit awkward at the same time. There was so much to catch up on, and I didn’t quite know how much to tell them about what had happened.
They seemed genuinely delighted with their granddaughter, though – my mum kept crying and hugging her and my dad looked pleased as punch.
He told me on later visits that my mother couldn’t sleep at night for feeling so bad about what had happened to me during all the years we were estranged.
Soon after I re-established contact with my parents I received a huge package from them. In it were masses of cards: they had gone out and bought a card for every birthday and Christmas that they had missed with me (to replace all those that they knew Eunice was binning), as a way of saying sorry.
Both of my parents had written little notes in the birthday cards, saying things like, ‘Happy Birthday, Bright Eyes’, marking special events like my eighteenth birthday.
They still feel sad that they have missed so much of my life.
After my disastrous relationships, I was in no hurry to start another one. But I had begun chatting to somebody on the internet who had become a virtual “friend”.
He was very helpful and supportive through difficulties, and eventually we decided to meet.
The attraction was mutual, and we have now been an item for a year. His name is Sy and he works as a drugs counsellor in Bristol.
He is so thoughtful and kind that I finally told him a bit about life with Eunice – as much as I could bear to talk about – and he was horrified. And when the ghosts of my past came back to haunt me, Sy was there to support me.
The fact that Eunice was brought to trial is down to the bravery of Sarah, who after years of torment eventually confided in members of Eunice’s Jehovah’s Witness congregation, who encouraged her to go to the police.
Quite rightly, they didn’t want people to think that their religion would ever condone such behaviour.
When the police contacted me to ask if I was happy to make a statement to support Sarah’s case, I said I was. Of course I was.
However, I don’t think the police, or anyone else for that matter, knew what a can of worms they were opening. Or more like an ocean full of poisonous snakes.
Eunice was arrested in February 2005, although it took two years before she came to trial.
On March 20, 2007, as I was sitting watching Ivy playing with her toys, the phone rang. “We’ve got a conviction.”
The detective constable sounded ecstatic in my ear. “She’s been found guilty of 26 counts including child cruelty, unlawful wounding and assault.”
A month later, Eunice was sentenced to 14 years in prison. She’ll be 72 by the time she gets out and Ivy will be 17 – the same age I was when Eunice abandoned me in Bristol.
Now, when I have nightmares about life at the farm, Sy is by my side. He is a wise, kind man who protects me and makes me feel like I am a good person and worth something.
He is wonderful with Ivy, and we are slowly growing into a family. A loving, caring, normal family, which is all I ever wanted. I don’t know what the future will bring but I am hopeful that we will spend it together.
• Adapted from DELIVER ME FROM EVIL by Alloma Gilbert, to be published by Pan on March 7 at £6.99. ° Alloma Gilbert