Brian Moore: I sobbed as sex abuse hell came back to haunt me

In the first extract from a revelatory new biography, the former England rugby player tells how he kept quiet for years about his ordeal because he felt guilty and ashamed – and to protect his parents.
This is the first time that I have told this story, and there is no easy way to tell it, so I suppose it is best just to take it chronologically. I will leave the fallout for later.

I was in Year 3, aged about nine or ten, the adopted, half-Malaysian son of Methodist lay-preachers. An overnight field trip was going to Stoodley Pike near Todmorden, West Yorkshire, a monument erected in 1854 to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon. These days the trip would not have taken place due to concerns about the youth of the students, but what could be amiss? A respected teacher, member of the church and a family friend – who would you trust more? Sharing a tent with three other boys and the teacher didn’t seem amiss either, nor did the night-time story-telling. Though the word ‘sex’ was woven into the storylines, it was something that, even at that age, we had sniggered about.

In retrospect, much of the pain, much of the shame, lies in the fact that at the time I couldn’t recognise what is obvious to an adult, and that at the time the experience was partially fun. I have not seen any of the other boys since leaving for senior school, but I sometimes wonder if they were able to exorcise the effects more successfully than I was.

Bragging about size is something that few men need much encouragement to do. So when it was suggested we all get them out and compare it was mildly embarrassing, but nothing threatening. It felt naughty, there was a vague frisson that we were doing sophisticated, grown-up things.

Though intellectually I can rationalise the reason why we, I, was not appalled and did not protest, it has been almost impossible since to rid myself of the feeling that I should have done something.

When it was my turn to touch – and more – it stopped being a bit of fun. I didn’t see what anyone else did because by then I was numb.

Similarly I can remember some of the times we were lured into the classroom storeroom to be reassured that it wouldn’t go so far this time. We need only show him, maybe let him touch, or touch him. He was deviously clever, and that is what would happen, but it just seemed naughty and felt good.

The fact that the physical response was not one of repulsion was the thing that was to cause me the greatest shame and pain thereafter.

Though it is tempting, I do not think there is now any point in naming the man. He is dead, and why should anyone innocent connected with him bear his shame? No matter what the tabloids say, this sort of thing is not commonplace, so only those who are involved professionally or victims can understand why it can take anything from a few weeks to a lifetime for people to come forward and complain. I cannot speak with certainty for anyone else, but I am sure all, most, or some of the following will resonate with any still-silent victims. Some may even take this to their grave.

What were the reasons for my silence? First, by a long way, is the shame and guilt at the fact that I did not resist. Did I deserve it, encourage it? Surely any normal boy, even of that age, would know what was unfolding and would struggle, or at the very least protest? Additionally, to other people, after the first time the subsequent episodes indicate willingness, or at least a lack of coercion.

I can rationalise the explanation given to me: at that age, my emerging identity, which would develop from child to man, necessarily involved my first contact with sexuality. As I didn’t fully comprehend what was happening or the extent of the wrongdoing, it meant I would respond physically because there was nothing in my head that registered the situation as being nefarious.

Yes, I understand all that, but I do not feel it; that is the vital point about resolving things. If I, or anybody else, cannot learn to go beyond the purely rational and get to the bottom of the emotions that have been lying deep inside the unconscious, it is impossible to move forward.

At the time I cannot remember asking these questions, even in a childlike way. What was happening was illicit and although I believe I felt it was not normal, it was with a figure of authority.

When I finally began to understand a little later that what had happened to me was indeed wrong, I faced the difficulties other children confront in this situation. Who would believe my word against that of a teacher and family friend? I felt I couldn’t tell, partly because of this, but also because of other reasons which to the reader might seem improbable.

In other respects this man was pleasant and fun. He was a good teacher. What if I told and he was taken away? That might upset my parents. I felt I could not tell my parents because of the friendship they had with him; also because I had not fought back, and at least initially had enjoyed some of the acts. Any mother or father would be mortified and feel guilt if their child felt they could not so confide. This guilt is wrong because they are also victims of this man. A person’s social setting also has an influence on how they deal with such things and whether they tell anyone. My family were, and are, decent people. They are known by many in the church and from other connections. I thought of the incredible furore that would ensue if I told them. There is absolutely no fault that can be aimed at my parents – but still they would always have felt ill about this.

A number of times I came close to telling my parents, but I just could not get the words out. Instead I stayed silent and cursed myself for not being brave enough to speak out. The nearest I came to disclosing what had happened was when I found out he had been invited to drop round to our house. Although I tried, I could not tell them and instead stormed out of the room. At the time, my parents wondered what on earth had provoked such a response. They put it down to the stroppy behaviour of a child. They, like everyone else, could not have imagined it related to such dark matters.

There would clearly have been repercussions if I had told. I do not just mean the immediate ones – police, social services, family. There is something else that is hugely powerful in dissuading a child from making a complaint: I have no doubt that, whilst everybody would deny this, the revelation by someone that they have been abused leads to a subtle tainting of that person.

So difficult is the subject that, if you have been abused, you feel tainted by association with the awfulness of the crime. “People will think I deserved it, invited it, enjoyed it,” you tell yourself. Rape victims often feel the same way, but in my case I have to add to these acts the fact that they were same sex. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, and not just from the uneducated.

Only recently, however, has a further point come to me, and in a way it is as bad, if not worse, than the acts themselves. The ability and desire of the perpetrator to continue to smile, laugh and extend heartfelt best wishes to all – to me, my parents and siblings, mutual friends – requires extended cruelty. In doing this, he was reliving the acts and receiving smug satisfaction from knowing that not only had he violated me, he was violating my family – particularly satisfying as they remained oblivious to his mendacity.

A visit to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in Vauxhall, London in 2008 left me stunned. As the departments began to deal with cases that were thought to involve criminal behaviour, the gravity of the work began to unfold. Of all the departments, the people who work in the victim and abuser identification unit appeared to have the most challenging jobs. Identifying the people involved by minute scrutiny, for hours on end, of every frame of film, every photograph, often revealing the most horrific offences against very young children, must be severely taxing.

The people work in pairs and, I understand, have to have regular counselling to retain their sanity. I asked if they ever became inured to the things they saw, and they said no. They felt it was absolutely necessary for them to retain the element of revulsion at these despicable acts so that they could maintain their focus and the will to catch the offenders.

When I left the building, I sat on a wall nearby and didn’t move for half an hour. I thought about the many images I had seen and the courage of the people who dedicated their hours to preventing as many children becoming victims as possible.

This triggered thoughts of my own experiences. Though not as extreme in nature as some of the cases witnessed, it was nevertheless abuse. I sobbed, trying to turn my head away from anyone walking by. When this was not possible, I walked down the road and found a small park where I had a chance to compose myself. I made a decision not to keep private that which I had buried for so many years, and to seek assistance in dealing with the consequences that I now realised had affected me so deeply that in many cases I had not even realised what had happened and why.

That visit also gave me the courage to ask for help, though being helped is a searing experience in itself. I thank all who work at CEOP for giving me their examples of bravery to follow. Once I had taken the decision to write about these experiences, I had to face the moment when I would let my mother read the text.

The days before this took place were amongst the most difficult of my life. I was distracted, incoherent and frightened. I knew that the revelation would cause pain; who amongst us would not do almost anything to avoid inflicting this on a parent? Many times I concluded that I could not do it, but fortunately I was able to hold on to the feeling that this was absolutely necessary for me to have any chance of dealing with this issue.

Furthermore, a prescient point was put to me by a professional counsellor: as a parent, would you be more hurt by the discovery of the facts, or by subsequently finding out that your child had felt unable to discuss this with you? It would be the latter, unquestionably.

After my mother read this chapter, she was naturally very upset but told me that a few years ago my fourth-year teacher at the junior school had made a comment to her about my
abuser to the effect that he had been told what went on during these camping trips, but not until many years after retiring.

I cannot explain why, but not until this moment had I realised that, at the time these events took place, my mother was working as the school secretary. The depth of this man’s deceitfulness was then laid bare for the first time. The ability to interact with a parent of a boy you were abusing, as if nothing was untoward, requires chilling dispassion.

What had previously been in my head a one-way question – my mother asking, “Why didn’t you tell me?” – was thus reciprocal. For many of the reasons previously listed, we explained to each other why we had not been able to raise the matter.

Confirming all I knew of her, my mother dealt with things quietly and with compassion. Nothing she could say will resolve all the effects of these incidents, but at least from the moment I told her, I genuinely felt that I could start to move on.