Sins of the father

Reporter Nichola Forgrave interviews Toni Maguire about her childhood memories of being sexually abused and raped by her father in Coleraine

AFTER enduring years of sexual abuse and rape at the hands of her father, Toni Maguire, originally from Coleraine, has written a heartbreaking and disturbing book about her ordeal.

'Don't Tell Mummy' (Harper Collins) recounts the harrowing story of a young girl's abuse from the age of six.

Toni's father, who hailed from Park Street in the town, first abused her at the age of six. When she finally built up the courage to tell her mother what had happened, she was told never to speak of the matter again.

When the assaults grew worse her father warned her not to tell her mother, or anyone else, because they would blame her and wouldn't love her any more. At fourteen, Toni fell pregnant by her father and for the first time she shared her terrible secret.

He pleaded guilty to multiple rapes, and Toni had to undergo yet another traumatic experience - giving evidence against him in court.

Although her father was eventually sent to prison for four years, Toni continued to suffer. She almost died from a botched late abortion.

She found herself judged and rejected by her family, teachers and friends, forced into a world of depression and madness with only herself to rely on if she ever hoped to build a happy life.

Now 61, Toni has spent time in South Africa but now lives in Norwich where she is currently writing her third book.

She spoke to The Coleraine Times this week about her traumatic childhood and her bitter-sweet memories of Coleraine.

"I can't remember the exact name of the street where I lived. My father came from Park Street. I still have relatives in the area. My father's brother, if he is still alive, would be in his eighties.

"He has children, my cousins, but I'm sure they don't know anything about this, I don't want to hurt them. I remember Park Street as a small street with a row of terraced houses. I've never been back in Coleraine since.

"At the time my whole family turned against me. I remember I used to babysit for my cousin. I remember on one occasion going to her house and she told me not to come back. The same thing happened with my grandmother."

Toni was a pupil of Coleraine High School. She has fond memories of school: "I loved school. I remember the green uniform and a green and black tie. I attended their junior school too. But when the story came out about my father I was expelled at the age of 14.

"At that time the school was run by a private board of governors, I was a paying pupil, but the other parents didn't want their children to be around me and I was expelled."

Speaking about the healing process in writing the book she said: "As people from Ireland will know, there is a strong sense of family. When my father died I couldn't grieve like other people would – I felt that I was denied that human emotion, and so I thought I'd try and write the book to take the taboo away.

" It was difficult going back over the past, but writing helped me deal with the past. If readers take one thing away from reading the book I'd like it to be that they normalise the victim.

"I suffered rejection as a child and as I grew into an adult. People have got to realise that it is not shameful to be a victim."

Toni's second book is a continuation of 'Don't Tell Mummy': "My mother took my father back when he was released from jail. I was devastated. It took me years to realise why a woman who really didn't like Ireland didn't go back to England – she was waiting for him. I end 'Don't Tell Mummy' there. The subject of my next book continues from this point.

"My only hope is that this book takes the taboo away from situations like these."

'Don't Tell Mummy' (Harper Collins) 12.99