Never Take No For An Answer
By Marilyn Hawes
The Book Guild pound;14.95
Could there be anything worse for a parent than hearing that one of your children is critically injured on the other side of the world and that it is touch-and-go whether she will survive?
Yes, there could. Just as Marilyn Hawes, a former music teacher, is struggling to get over this news of her daughter, another trauma breaks over her head. Police visit her and tell her a trusted friend and confidant of many years, a man who was so close to the family that he had taken her 10-year-old twin sons, Michael and Peter, to live in his house while she rebuilt her life after her divorce, is being investigated for long-standing abuse of young boys.
The police say they believe Jeffrey Carney deliberately insinuated himself into Marilyn Hawes's family, and "groomed" her boys for abuse. She has to face the probability that they were molested over years. To Hawes it is unthinkable. This was the charismatic and successful head of the children's former school, St Sebastian's Church of England primary in Wokingham, Berkshire. He was the man who had encouraged her to become a school governor and later come to work as a teacher there, and a committed Christian with whom she had often discussed spiritual matters.
Suddenly, she is recalling "nanoseconds" of doubt, incidents when she had wondered at a look, a play-fight, a gesture, and although she tries to reject the horror, at the same time she knows it is true.
Hawes's book chronicles how her friendship with Carney started in church and strengthened when she became a governor at his school, and how, as they grew closer, it became natural for him to behave as a kind of surrogate uncle to her children. The treats, holidays and physical affection all seemed a natural part of that. The discovery of the truth pitches her into deep depression, and even thoughts of suicide.
Carney owns up to two counts of abuse, but his "remarkable references and good character" lead the judge to give him a light, non-custodial sentence, not even placing any restriction on his access to children.
Incensed, Hawes gathers herself up and launches a furious one-woman fight against the legal system that results in that judgment being overturned, and Carney being sentenced last October to 15 months in custody. Hawes now helps run a child protection consultancy and is a spokeswoman for Enough Abuse, a National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children campaign to make sure all children have a trusted adult they can talk to.
Her book makes clear how deviously paedophiles work, and what a long game plan they have in mind. It also shows how arrogant and self-deluded they can be. Carney spoke in church and clearly considered himself a fine, upstanding Christian. It includes telling short statements from the twins, about how "special" Carney made them feel, although Michael feels "every bad emotion possible" when he finally hears the truth.
The story is sickening, and sympathies go out wholeheartedly to Marilyn Hawes and her wronged sons. But there are are other unsettling aspects to this story. Hawes's breathless tone, and the narrative leaps and lurches, induce a kind of emotional sea-sickness in the reader. Complex emotional issues can seem swept aside, while less consequential matters - the outfits she wears for court, for example - at times seem too prominent.
The character who comes over through the author's voice is energetic, driven, full of self-belief ("I learnt quickly to achieve what I wanted and how I wanted to achieve it, even though it didn't suit others' plans for me") yet also vulnerable and not very emotionally fine-tuned. When Hawes's boys are living with Carney, and he possessively questions her about the length of time she has spent taking them out on a picnic, she explains: "I put it down to natural concern and the fact that he knew that the boys'
living at his home was going to end in a few weeks."
Plenty of people seem to have had doubts about Carney. Hawes's own daughter detested him from the age of six; her mother thought he was after something; her new husband says, even before he meets him, that he knows exactly what he is. Hawes herself knew he had favourite pupils, took small groups of boys swimming, unsupervised, after school, and often had boys staying at his house. Later, it emerges that two cleaners had resigned from his primary school because they had seen him fondling Hawes's boys who were sitting on his lap.
How could you, you ask yourself as you read this book, not have seen what was going on?
But it is always easy to have wisdom after the event. Hawes, embedded in the turmoil of her own life, needed the support of Carney, just as much as he needed a constant supply of available boys. This tragic collision of mutual need blighted many lives.