Rachel Shovelton, 43, Caerphilly, South Wales, shares her shocking story...
Growing up, I knew all the neighbours in our sleepy cul-de-sac. A close-knit community, we’d call into each other’s houses regularly.
Derrick Evans lived five doors down with his wife. I’d greet them on Sundays at church with my mum Krys, then 41, dad Keith, 53, and my younger brother Paul.
Then, when I was 13, I was hit by a serious mystery virus. I’d sores all over my stomach, zero energy. Hospitalised for several weeks, eventually, I was discharged. Still weak, I couldn’t walk to school like usual.
Derrick, then 56, worked in a hardware store near school and offered to give me a lift. ‘How kind,’ Mum thanked him. I didn’t know Derrick well, but he was a friendly man. I trusted him and his wife.
At 8.30am, Mum walked me to Derrick’s, then we’d set off around 8.50am. A few days later, I clambered into the front seat of the car beside Derrick. As he drove, his arm reached over and he ran his hand up my thighs, under my skirt.
Shocked, I didn’t dare speak, and shuffled uncomfortably. I knew it was wrong but, rushing into school, I tried to forget it.
Only, next morning, Derrick had other ideas. His wife was out tending to a poorly next-door neighbour.
Alone, Derrick cornered me in his living room. ‘Your breasts will be lovely,’ he leered at me. Then, leaning over, his vile hands groped them. After, he touched me intimately, down below. Frozen in fear, I couldn’t move.
‘Do you like that?’ he asked. I grimaced, embarrassed. ‘If you don’t, tomorrow, sit on the chair,’ he instructed.
Only, the next morning, he’d piled up music folders on the chair, so that I’d no choice but to sit on the sofa.
This won’t be forever, I told myself.
One morning, I wore tights, hoping it’d stop him. It didn’t. I willed myself to get stronger and walk to school.
A month on, Derrick tried to touch me again and I grew so angry, I slapped him. ‘Don’t!’ I ordered, but then he reached into his pocket and offered me 50p. Disgusted, I threw it at him and stormed out.
From then, I walked to school. I felt free, believing it was over. But the dread of bumping into Derrick plagued me. Living so close, he was always lurking at the back of my mind. I suffered mood swings, which Mum put down to teenage hormones.
One day, walking with Mum, Derrick was in his front garden. ‘Hello,’ he said. Head down, I ignored him, kept walking.
‘Don’t be rude to Derrick,’ Mum scolded me.‘I didn’t hear,’ I shrugged. Mum didn’t press the issue. Why would she suspect the twisted truth? I knew it’d destroy the community, and I desperately wanted to protect it and my family.
Planning my escape, turning 18 in August 1991, I joined the RAF as a personnel administrator, was based in Wiltshire. Far away from Derrick Evans.
But memories continued to haunt me. Leaning in to kiss my first serious boyfriend, I burst into tears, revealed everything. He urged me to tell the police. ‘I can’t,’ I sobbed.
We married in 1992, and my wedding night should have been a magical time. But, after a perfect day, Derrick crept into my mind as my hubby helped me undress.
My mental health suffered. I constantly felt anxious and sick. Later that year, I was diagnosed with clinical depression.
In 1995, our son arrived but, sadly, my hubby and I separated several years later.
Derrick had ruined my life. Every time I visited my parents, I’d panic about seeing him. So I avoided going home. But I missed my family dearly.
Early last year, I suffered a nervous breakdown. On antidepressants and sleeping pills, I realised the dark secret was eating away at me. ‘Tell your family,’ my friend urged.
I booked a ticket home, arriving late one Saturday night in April last year.
I’d planned to tell them calmly the next day but, as Mum hugged me goodnight, I broke down. ‘What’s wrong?’ Mum asked. ‘I was abused as a child by Derrick up the road,’ I sobbed. Mum hugged me tight. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t realise,’ she cried. ‘How could you? No-one would suspect him,’ I replied. Not a ‘pillar of the community’ like Derrick.
Mum told Dad and Paul, who were both angry but supportive. Next day, Mum offered to come with me to the police station. As I gave my statement, the weight I’d carried for nearly 30 years lifted.
And two weeks later, Derrick was arrested. Faced with five charges of indecent assault, he denied it all. The coward tried to blame me for leading him on. Derrick was 56 at the time, I was just 13. A child!
Shaking, I had to give evidence behind a screen. After, I couldn’t face returning to court.
On 26 May this year, at Newport Crown Court, Derrick Evans, 85, was found guilty of three counts of indecently assaulting a female under 16. In June, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison. He’ll also be subject of a sexual harm prevention order and a sexual offences notification requirement for 10 years.
‘It’s over,’ I cried, relieved. That guilty verdict was everything. Evans can remain in denial. The truth’s out. I wish I’d spoken out sooner, and I’d urge anyone else who’s suffered abuse to do so. You’re not alone – tell someone.
Welsh charity New Pathways, for victims of sexual assault, was an invaluable support. Now, I’m letting go of the past. Best of all, I can return home with my head held high.