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Croydon family speak of 'failure' of justice system that led to child abuser getting community sentence

THE victims of child abuser Bernard Pereira lived with his actions for more than 20 years but, just as their wait for justice seemed over, he cut a deal and was let off with a slap on the wrist. In an exclusive interview, their mother tells Gareth Davies that the police and justice system failed her family... STEVEN and Lucy have lived with the abuse they suffered as children for 20 years, keeping it hidden, even from each other.

Years of nightmares and blackouts, then more than a year of reliving what had happened with their parents and in interviews with the police, had all led to a day neither brother or sister believed would come.

Bernard Pereira, the man charged with abusing them, was to stand trial. Now they waited for the phone call asking them to attend court and tell a jury what he had done.

But, when the call came, Steven and Lucy, whose names we have changed to protect their identities, were not asked to give evidence.

Instead they were told Pereira, 55, of Mitcham Road, Croydon, was cutting a deal which would see him plead guilty to just two of the seven offences he had been charged with.

He would admit two counts of indecency with a child if the other offences, including one of attempted rape, were dropped.

The news was relayed to Steven and Lucy by a senior detective from Sapphire, the Met's specialist rape and sexual assault unit.

"He told us that Bernard had pleaded guilty to some of the lesser charges and that we had five minutes to decide whether to accept the deal," said their mother Paula, who had been waiting with her children to attend court.

Speaking at the family home in Croydon, she added: "My daughter didn't understand why they needed a decision in five minutes. She was distraught. We asked for more time but the detective replied: 'You don't have more time. You either make up your mind or the CPS will decide for you'."

Paula described how talk of a plea bargain contradicted reassurances given by the police to the family in the lead-up to the trial in October.

While they were aware how difficult it might be to prove allegations of historic sexual abuse, there were a number of witnesses willing to corroborate Steven and Lucy's evidence, leading police to tell the family their case was strong.

Paula said: "When my children first reported it we felt the police wouldn't believe them. It happened such a long time ago and cases like this are difficult to prove.

"But when they went round to all the witnesses, the police had such strong statements they felt there was genuine evidence.

"Our lives had been turned upside down but we had built up to this moment and were prepared to go as far as it takes.

"The detective said my children could get justice. In the end that chance was taken away from them."

Paula added: "Lucy and Steven wanted to give evidence. They wanted the opportunity to show Bernard he hadn't won.

"Me and Steven even went to court on the Thursday before the trial to get an idea of what it would be like. When we were there, the detective turned to Steven and said 'you and Lucy need to think about whether you would be happy if Bernard pleaded guilty to one or two charges'.

"We said no. Why would we be happy with that? We wanted him to be punished, to get a prison term and to know what he did was wrong. That would be justice for Steven and Lucy. But obviously the police were already talking about a deal before it got to court."

Neither Steven or Lucy agreed to the deal, so the CPS did. James Dawson, prosecuting, told the judge at Croydon Crown Court that the agreement had saved the victims, particularly Steven, the "stress" and "embarrassment" of giving evidence.

Pereira pleaded guilty to assaulting nine-year-old Lucy between January 1989 and January 1991. The self-employed builder, a family friend, was babysitting the girl when he put her hands between her legs while she was having a bath. He also admitted indecency with Steven between July 30 and August 1, 1993, when he put his hands under the boy's underpants and touched his bottom.

Four other charges of indecency and one count of attempted rape of a child were not pursued.

After agreeing to the deal, Pereira was given 60 hours' unpaid work for each offence, to run concurrently, and was placed on the sex offenders register for five years. The following day, the senior investigating officer visited the family to "congratulate" them on the result.

"He sat next to my son and said it was a good thing the CPS had accepted the plea because the jury might have found him not guilty," said Paula.

"He asked us how we would have felt knowing we hadn't taken his guilty plea.

"The detective said my son's evidence was not as strong as Lucy's and that the jury might have thought he was unreliable.

"I didn't like that at all. As soon as he said it, my son shut down. He felt guilt-ridden because he thought it was his fault that my daughter didn't get the justice she deserved.

"I wish there was a way we could do a civil case but the detective said we needed to 'get on with our lives'. How do you move on with your life? How do you put it back to the way it was? I can't. My life is completely finished."

Pereira had been a friend of Paula's family for decades and even supported her following the breakdown of her marriage. "He used to turn up to my mum's house, while the kids were there, and play with them," she said. "They would go to my aunt's house and he would turn up there too, saying I wouldn't mind if he took them to the shop or to play in the park. "After I got married he used to offer to babysit. I thought nothing of it. He was newly married and had a new house. I checked it and it seemed OK. His wife was there. "I didn't know he used to take them to the shop and buy them toys and take them to his house. So when they used to say they wanted to go there, I didn't realise it was because they wanted to go and play with the toys. "It never occurred to me in my wildest dreams that anything would happen." It was during the occasions that he looked after Steven and Lucy between 1989 and 1993 that the two incidents Pereira admitted to occurred. The siblings told no one of the abuse, even each other, until last year when the nightmares Lucy has endured since her ordeal intensified. Lucy spoke to her brother, who suffers from unexplained blackouts which leave him unable to drive, and discovered she was not alone. Last May they bravely reported the incidents to the police. "When Lucy told me, it changed my life forever," said Paula. "I couldn't believe that someone I saw as a brother could do these things." Despite her family's experience with the justice system Paula believes victims of other sexual offences should not be put off coming forward. The Jimmy Savile scandal has placed police treatment of historic sexual abuse cases firmly in the spotlight. Off-the-record briefings from the Met to the Advertiser about the Pereira trial stressed the importance of retaining a victim's confidence. Paula said: "If people read about how our family was treated they may think it's not worthwhile doing it. "But I hope people will come forward because those who do these things need to be brought to justice. They are sick. We let the law try and sort it out. There are other people who will use other means but we should all do things the proper way. "Even knowing what we do now, we would still have reported what happened. We still have faith that there are police who do their jobs. "You have to believe there is some justice. I was devastated but I kept saying we have to have hope in the system.otherwise what's the point? "But I don't think my children will ever go through it again. All they want to do is forget about it." Police held an urgent meeting with the family after their concerns were raised by the Advertiser. In a statement, a Scotland Yard spokesman said: "We kept in liaison with, and supported the family throughout the process. "We are concerned they are unhappy and we have met with them and will continue to do so to discuss any issues." The CPS said it 'takes into account whether the proposed pleas reflect the gravity of the offending' and that victims are consulted 'wherever possible'. "The police were in close contact with the victims before, during and after the court hearing date, and discussed with them the proposals being put forward at the time," a spokesman added. "If the victims in this case had disagreed with the proposal to accept the plea, this would have been taken into account." Neither the police nor CPS would be drawn on why the family had been given five minutes to make the decision. Paula said: "It makes me so mad. I want to get hold of that barrister and say: 'Do you have children? Do you have any idea what you have done?' "I feel like this has happened to my children twice. They went through it all those years ago and now they have had to go through it all again for nothing. "I feel so let down by the police and the CPS. All it was to them was about how much it would cost. To us it was our lives. "You put your faith in the police and the justice system because they are the experts, they know what they are doing. "It should be about the victims but yet again they come off worse than the accused, who gets a slap on the wrist and is allowed to walk away."

Croydon family speak of 'failure' of justice system that led to child abuser getting community sentence

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