Legacy of a rapist

Revenge is a dish best served cold, they say. I waited 25 years...

Published by: Jonathan Forrester and Clare Stone
Published on: 1 September 2011

Sitting at my kitchen table smoking a cigarette, it was like any other morning. But taking a shaky drag, there was a knock at the door. I staggered to my feet, and slowly shuffled to open it.
‘Sian?’ a woman asked. I nodded. ‘My name’s Liz,’ she continued. ‘I’m here to talk to you about what happened in 1986…’ 
‘Oh God,’ I said. Sparking up another fag, my mind reeled back to that winter’s night 25 years earlier…
The streets were deserted, as a church clock chimed midnight. Then I heard something that made my blood chill more than the cold, January air. 
Thud, thud, thud… footsteps behind me. ‘It’s that man,’ I thought, trying to stay calm.
Ten minutes earlier, I’d been heading towards an underpass when I’d spotted a bloke coming in the opposite direction. Hands buried in his long, camel-coloured coat, his eyes had bored into me.
Shivering, I’d walked the long way round, avoiding the subway. Don’t fancy bumping into him.
Normally, I wasn’t bothered walking alone around Bristol – a feisty, confident 20-year-old, I’d moved there from Tiverton, Devon, a month ago and it was a great way of exploring. That was why I’d said no when the couple I’d been babysitting for that night had offered to drive me home.
‘I’m taking self-defence classes at college,’ I’d said. ‘I’ll be fine.’
But those footsteps were growing closer. Quickening my step, I rounded the corner into my street and remembered what I’d been told at the self-defence lessons – surprise your attacker. 
I whipped around. 
My heart was hammering, but it worked because the man stepped back. I scurried away. 
‘You’re not very friendly,’ a voice called out. It was him again.
Suddenly, hands grabbed my shoulders. ‘No,’ I cried, as I was yanked backwards towards the church porch. My throat was being squeezed now. As I choked, everything I’d learned in self-defence flew from my head. I was going limp, slumping to the floor.
‘I can’t die,’ I told myself. ‘I can’t die…’ As he yanked down my jeans, I forced myself to focus on something else. ‘His jean zip,’ I thought. ‘It’s digging into your thigh, concentrate on that pain.’
So I did, as the monster raped me, the weight of his body crushing my ribs until I could barely breathe. With a shudder, he finished. He relaxed his grip on me – this was my chance! I wriggled out from under him, pulled up my jeans and ran until I spotted the neon sign of a 24-hour printers.
‘Pl-please help. I’ve been raped.’
The bloke behind the counter froze in shock. ‘Sit down, I’ll call the police,’ he said, finding his voice and moving towards me. Then I froze – in terror.
The logical part of my brain screamed at me. Not all men wanted to hurt me. But my instinct was to be afraid. In that moment, I knew I’d never again be the confident woman who thought nothing of walking alone.
At the police station, I was swabbed for clues, and even had to put on a white paper suit so officers could keep my clothes.
Undressing, I felt like yet another layer of my free-spirited self was being stripped away, revealing a dark, lonely, depressed shell. ‘How did this happen to me?’ I wept.
All I wanted was to climb into my nice, warm bed, and pray this was a sick nightmare. But when I woke, the physical reminders were all too clear to see in the mirror.
Purple bruises on my neck, scratches covering me, welts where my attacker’s zip had gouged at my thigh. ‘These injuries will heal, and so will I,’ I told my reflection. ‘He controlled me that night, but he can’t command my life.’
I forced myself to go to the part-time job I had decorating a local community centre. ‘Where do you want me?’ I smiled, picking up a brush. The room fell silent. 
It seemed the police had told them what had happened. I couldn’t choose who to tell now.
Still, I tried to put a brave face on things. After the attack, I was at my friend Mark’s helping to fix his car. I’d trained as a mechanic, wanted to make it my career. But working under the car, my chest tightened.
‘C-c-can’t breathe,’ I gasped, rolling out from below it. A cold sweat ran down my spine.
‘Calm down,’ Mark soothed.
‘It felt like the car was crushing me,’ I panted. Like my rapist had…
Police still hadn’t caught anyone. Soon, I was having daily panic attacks, and started smoking heavily to calm my nerves. Then one day, craving oblivion, I did something really stupid – I took drugs.
They helped… for a while. So I took more, and more. I hadn’t died the night of my attack, but the memories were slowly killing me.
‘He’s ruined my life,’ I sobbed to Mark. ‘I wanted to get married, have children.’ 
Yet ‘he’ still didn’t have a name.
Before I knew it, 25 years had passed. I managed to get myself off drugs, but my body was ruined. I had chronic emphysema and could barely leave the house. My rapist had destroyed my life.
Yet now, after all this time, there was finally news. ‘We’ve got a suspect,’ Liz explained. ‘He reported a burglary, and we took a sample of his blood to eliminate him. Turned out it was a match to DNA from your attack.’
Valentine Barnett, 60, had lived in Bristol most of his life. Funny, I’d never worried about bumping into my attacker before – for me, he’d been frozen in time. Now he’d been caught by a twist of fate.
Liz had more news, though. ‘He’s pleaded not guilty,’ she said. ‘You’ll have to give evidence – but you can stand behind a screen.’
Fury raged inside me. ‘No,’ I said. ‘He won’t control me any more. I’ll stand and be seen.’
Knowing he’d been trapped by overwhelming DNA evidence though, my rapist pleaded guilty. Four months after his arrest, I sat with Liz at Bristol Crown Court. Valentine Barnett was brought in to sit behind me.
‘If I turn around, he’s got me doing what he wants,’ I decided. So I faced forwards, even when he was sentenced to eight years in prison.
‘Last chance to see him,’ Liz said. I turned to see a grey-haired man disappear. As the door slammed shut, the control he’d had over me all those years vanished.
Now I’m slowly rebuilding my life, and desperately trying to give up smoking. I want other women who’ve been raped to read my story and come forward – because I’m proof that justice can be done, even after 25 years. 

For help and advice, contact
Sian Lloyd, 45, Bristol