Officers assigned to sex abuse investigations linked to notorious bus driver
Specialist police officers have been assigned to 19 historic sex abuse investigations in Co Fermanagh, seven linked to a notorious school bus driver.
Detectives have revealed that five of David Sullivan’s alleged victims have come forward in recent weeks, following a high-profile local newspaper expose.
Sullivan’s dismembered body was found in an isolated Fermanagh bog in 2000, two years after the 51-year-old’s murder – a crime detectives believe was potentially linked to the abuse claims. No one has ever been convicted of the killing.
One of those who has contacted police claims Sullivan abused them as early as 1963 – suggesting the former bus driver and youth club leader was potentially preying on victims for more than three decades.
Sullivan’s alleged victims were both male and female – some were adults when they were targeted, some were teenage children.
However, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) have said they have not yet been presented evidence that he was operating as part of a wider abuse ring in Fermanagh.
The victims who have come forward to date have suggested he was a lone wolf abuser.
PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman said: “At this point in time the allegations we have against David Sullivan relate to David Sullivan only.”
Of the 19 cases the specialist team is working on, 11 involve people who had previously reported abuse to police but no prosecution resulted. Officers are now reviewing the files to see if any evidential opportunities were missed.
Mrs Hilman, head of the PSNI’s Public Protection Branch, provided an update into the sex abuse probe as she urged victims who have not yet come forward to trust officers and other support agencies with their stories.
The police initiative has been triggered by a series of reports in the Impartial Reporter newspaper in Fermanagh, which has provided a platform for victims to tell their stories over several weeks.
Twelve of the 19 PSNI investigations do not involve claims against Sullivan. Police do not believe there is anything to link these 12 cases, some of which relate to historic abuse committed by family members.
The Impartial Reporter has spoken to more than 20 people who have recounted their experiences of historic sex abuse in the county, many identifying Sullivan as their abuser.
Mrs Hilman said she wanted to provide reassurance to victims who were still hesitant about coming to police.
“I am aware of people saying of a previous experience with police and perhaps they don’t have that confidence to come forward – I would say to them ‘give us that opportunity, talk to us, let us come to speak to you and let us see what is best for you and how we can help you as victim’,” she said.
She highlighted that victims could also approach other organisations, such as Victim Support NI or counselling service Nexus.
Mrs Hilman stressed that people did not have to tell their stories in police stations, highlighting the regional Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) at the Rowan Centre in Co Antrim as a potential setting to share distressing recollections.
She said detectives were aware of speculation and rumour about a major paedophile ring in Co Fermanagh involving Sullivan, but she said there was no evidence of that to date.
The officer urged anyone with knowledge of such activity to come forward.
“I am aware of the coverage in Fermanagh and I know there’s been lots of speculation and conversations about what people know and what the police knew and didn’t know and what I would say and appeal to people – ‘if you know something about historical child sex abuse come and talk to us’,” she said.
“We can only act on what we know and while there may be lots of commentary and conversations I am not sure police know all of that and I would ask people to come forward and talk to the investigation team.”
Mrs Hilman joined representatives from Nexus and Victim Support NI at the Rowan Centre, which is located in the grounds of Antrim Area Hospital, in a bid to highlight the range of support on offer to victims if they come forward.
Karen Gallagher, the interim CEO of Nexus, said 75% of the 1,000 clients they deal with each year are victims of historic abuse.
“We are here to listen to people and help them sort out the trauma that they have been through and in the hope they can lead a happy and fulfilled life post-counselling,” she said.
Claire Gallaugher, an independent sexual violence advocate at Victim Support NI, supports victims as they engage with the criminal justice system.
“I think the recent reports that have come out from Fermanagh have been harrowing to say the least,” she said.
“It really has highlighted again how many victims who are suffering and who haven’t been able to come forward and they are suffering in silence so, as an organisation, we really want to engage with those people and offer them support through our service.”
She said people were often scared of telling their stories.
“There is a lot of guilt and shame attached to this type of crime so it’s (our work) helping them realise that that guilt and shame definitely doesn’t land with them,” she added.
If you are victim of abuse, support is available through –
The 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Abuse Helpline – 0808 802 1414 Nexus NI – 028 9032 6803 http://nexusni.org/ The Rowan Centre free phone helpline 0800 399 4424 www.therowan.net<http://www.therowan.net> Victim Support NI – Belfast office 02890 243133