Kelly Jones, 29, Northampton was just 9 years old when the vile abuse began...

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Growing up, I was always fiercely independent.

With two siblings who were much older, I made friends with the local kids.

Geoffrey Skinner, then 46, lived opposite. He’d no kids, but he’d often be out front pottering while we raced round on roller blades or kicked a footy about.

My mum Mary, then 41, and dad Daniel, 52, trusted Geoffrey and his wife.

As my parents didn’t drive, Geoffrey often offered to take me along on his day fishing trips.

All close friends, no-one questioned it.

I was 9 in August 1996 when Geoffrey took me on a trip.

‘Have as much pick ’n’ mix as you like,’ he smiled at the supermarket.

Delighted, I loaded up £10 worth, chuffed to bits.

Only, as we drove along a dirt track, Geoffrey stopped in a secluded spot.

‘Fancy steering?’ he asked.

Excited, I clambered onto his knee, and guided the wheel.

Only, as I did, Geoffrey’s fingers snaked inside my skirt and knickers.

I froze, then winced in pain as his nails scraped inside me, and tried to push his hand away.

Despite this, he continued. Unsure what was happening, I just looked forward and continued ‘driving’.

Geoffrey didn’t utter a word.

I assumed it was normal, and the abuse became regular, whenever he got me alone.

I’d often be at his house because his wife kept dogs, including one Border collie called Misty.

‘You can treat her like your dog,’ Geoffrey said.

I wasn’t allowed a dog, so I often walked them, or popped over to use Geoffrey’s computer.

Young and naive, as Geoffrey never got angry or told me off, I trusted him. Never considered telling anyone about what was happening.

I didn’t know it then, but he’d groomed me so I’d do anything without question.

Once, though, Geoffrey exposed himself to me while I was on his computer.

‘You can practice if you want,’ he leered.

It made me feel really uneasy, so I replied, ‘No.’

Still, he’d touch my privates on occasions we were alone.

Then, in late 1997, police arrested Geoffrey.

I’d no idea why but, later, Mum took me aside.

Kelly and her mum (Photo: SWNS)

‘Has Geoffrey ever touched you?’ she asked.

Terrified, I didn’t want to upset her or get into trouble.

‘No,’ I replied, firmly.

No-one asked again, so I buried it all.

Growing older, I learned about sex and realised how Geoffrey had used me.

I felt worthless, dirty and guilty for letting it happen.

My parents split when I was 13, and I rebelled, self-harmed.

Nobody knew why, but I was petrified Geoffrey would be released and move back.

I swapped bedrooms to the back of the house, so he couldn’t see me if he did.

The thought of bumping into Geoffrey plagued my thoughts.

Still, I got on with life. I had my daughter Ashlee, now 8, and son Alex, 4.

Kelly with Alex and Ashlee (Photo: SWNS)

As they grew up, I realised how innocent kids are.

At 9, I’d no idea what Geoffrey was doing. But he did.

A single mum, I tried to focus on my kids, and put my energy into training as a counsellor.

In February 2016, I enrolled on a training course with The Lowdown, Northampton, a charity supporting 12-25-year-olds through any life crisis.

Only, during the weekend course, we were presented with a scenario of child abuse.

It mirrored my experience exactly.

Bile rising in my throat, I had to leave the room.

Flustered, I was followed by a teacher.

‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.

I broke down.

‘I was abused, but it wasn’t that bad, I know others have been through worse,’ I babbled.

‘Abuse is abuse,’ she said. ‘There’s no sliding scale.’

Suddenly, it dawned on me.

How could I tell others they weren’t to blame, when I was still blaming myself?

Though I dropped out of the course, it made me realise it was time I confronted my demons.

Contacting the police, an officer visited me at home and took my statement.

Geoffrey was arrested that summer. He’d answered ‘no comment’ to the charges, so I geared up to give evidence at Northampton Crown Court.

Mum had been devastated by my revelations and, throughout the trial, she was my rock.

‘It wasn’t your fault, Mum, we all trusted him,’ I told her.

Kelly and her mum now (Photo: SWNS)

This January, he admitted four counts of indecent assault on a child aged 9 and 10 years old between 1996 and 1997.

I was spared taking the stand.

Relieved, I was still determined to attend sentencing.

I shuddered as I saw him again after 20 years.

He looked older, and had a vile, smug expression.

Pathetic.

It took every ounce of strength not to yell out in court as, in February, Geoffrey Skinner, 66, was jailed for two years, and will remain on licence for a further 12 months.

I was disappointed, but no amount of time could bring back my childhood.

However, the burden I’d been carrying for 20 years lifted.

Now I’m studying Health and Social Care, and want to help other abuse victims.

I used to think because people had been through worse, what I’d experienced wasn’t as important.

Whenever I look at my children, I know if anyone harmed them, I’d want justice.

Now I’ve got just that, I can begin to move on.