Victims face Bexhill sex offender to explain the devastating impact his actions had on their lives
Two victims of a former Bexhill resident who was jailed for sex offences against young girls faced their abuser in court to outline the impact his offending has had on their lives.
Christopher Bancroft, 60, formerly of Elmstead Road, Bexhill, but now of Willowbrook Drive, Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, was found guilty of eight counts of indecent assault between 1990 and 1992 against three victims, comprising four counts in respect of one of them, and two against each of the other two, police said. He was found not guilty of one count of indecent assault.
At Hove Crown Court on Friday (July 30), he was sentenced to one year and ten months in prison and told he will be a registered sex offender for ten years, police added.
Before sentencing, two of his victims, who cannot be named for legal reasons, faced him in court to outline the impact his offending has had on the past 30 years of their lives.
One victim said: “I went to the police over two years ago when things were becoming too much for me. I had tried to access some counselling to try and deal with the issues that I was going through. As I described what had happened to me when I was a young girl, things were taken totally out of my hands and the counsellor said that they thought this needed to be escalated to safeguarding. This shocked me as I just wanted help at the time and I had difficulty saying what had happened to me out loud. I also found it difficult to say his name as I had spent years hiding what felt to me like my dirty secret.
“I feel that I went into a bit of free fall after this and my symptoms of PTSD that I had been going through since these things happened to me got worse with constant flashbacks and nightmares. I am jumpy all of the time. I scan every single room that I enter, every train carriage in case he is there and always sit with my back to a wall where I can see the door. Having to do this constantly is exhausting and I have struggled for the past 2 years to work and to live a normal life. I have carried the feelings of guilt of not saying anything for a long time and suddenly I was being faced with having to tell everyone about it. I have forever felt guilty about why I didn’t say anything, why did I not take the opportunity to tell someone in a position of authority? Could this have happened to someone else? I feel that if I’d said something sooner it would have prevented something from happening to someone else but I also believed him when he said that no one would believe me and I didn’t want people to know what he had made me do.
“I don’t think that anyone can understand the sense of guilt and shame unless they’d experienced what I have. I have to tell myself that I was a child when this happened and it wasn’t my fault. It stays with me always. At the time he told me that the things he was doing was something that I wanted but that I just didn’t know it. I battled with that for a very long time.
“As a child, it was confusing and frightening to hear this from him. He is a big man physically and can be very intimidating when he wants to. He is also brazen and would gloat that no one would ever believe me if I said anything anyway. When an adult tells you something you believe them. Now I’m an adult, it’s still with me and I am constantly exhausted as a result. Chris Bancroft was a man who knew exactly what he wanted and what he was doing. He had no boundaries and with only thoughts for himself and what he wanted sexually. He didn’t think about the consequences or the impact that it was having on me.
“I have always wondered if he has done this to someone else. I live constantly on high alert and I have always been scared that he would come and find me. Intellectually I understand that this is not likely to happen but emotionally I feel terrified and it is often all consuming.
“Even when I am on a train or on the tube, I am constantly searching for his face. I sometimes have to get off because I have thought that I might have seen him and he’s there to get me. I just want to go about my normal life and to be able to live without looking over my shoulder all the time and live without carrying the shame of what he did and made me do.
“I can only think of one time that I went away for a weekend with my partner that I didn’t look for him in the shadows. This was because no one had known that we were away or where we were. I need to be able to walk freely again. I can’t even cook in my kitchen without the door being shut because I worry about him finding me and I am so jumpy all of the time. I need to hear the door click open to alert me or I jump and scream without being able to stop it. I check the cupboard doors continuously to make sure that no one is inside and that they are shut because I can’t have any doors open in the house and our front door at home always needs to be locked. My family have to put up with me doing this. My children have to watch me going through these processes. It’s not fair on any of us that we have had to change our lives to help me cope.
“The things that have happened to me have had their physical toll on me. There was a stage when I had to seek physiotherapy because the stress caused my body to weaken. My legs at times have literally given way and I often experience chronic pain all over my body and had to walk with the aid of crutches trying to hold myself up. I had chronic back pain and my senses are often over loaded. The secret of what Chris Bancroft did is like a huge burden that I have carried with me always, weighing me down. I don’t sleep, have vivid nightmares and flash backs when I do manage to sleep and I am constantly anxious. One time after I approached the police for these matters, I broke down in public and had to be helped to a place of safety by the police. It got to a stage where I couldn’t function properly. It causes me to struggle to breathe and have panic attacks.
“There are decisions that I have made in my life that I know I wouldn’t have made if I hadn’t had the experiences that I’d had with Chris Bancroft. As a result of him I learned not to have boundaries at an age where I was vulnerable to being exploited. I entered into other relationships where I was exploited and I wasn’t able to make good decisions for myself and about myself. I blame this solely on him. I think about how different things could have been for me if he hadn’t done what he had done to me and I feel sad for me as a vulnerable child.
“He’s put me through having to give evidence and once again falling apart in front of people I don’t know, having to tell strangers about things that I struggle to tell those close to me about. I was determined to go into court and give evidence even though the thought of me seeing him made me want to be physically sick and I felt terrified to see him. I knew I was telling the truth and I know that he knows it is the truth too. I wanted him to hear how it had affected my life, to see the effect it had on me. What I got was the view of a man who had no shame and was simply out to save himself. He appeared with no remorse of what he had done and was brazen as he stared at me in the witness box. I felt that he was getting a kick out of seeing my distress.
“He could have stopped this when he was first approached by the police, but he chose to put myself and the other girls through hell for two years whilst we waited for the trial to go ahead. My life has literally been on hold. I have been unable to commit to a permanent job as I didn’t want to have to explain as to why I was needed to give evidence in court. I needed therapy to help me deal with the PTSD but it couldn’t be started because of the process of changing my approach to my memories may have undermined my evidence and so I have had to deal with this all on my own.
“I’ve had to re-live through my trauma a number of times whilst going through this process. I had to watch my police interview, then had to recount events to the court. It was horrendous watching my police interview and I felt sick throughout this. It also made me realise that he knew exactly what he was doing.
“It felt like it was someone else saying those awful things in the interview, but of course it was me because I’d experienced it but it was very hard to hear it out loud. It’s changed my relationships with friends and my partner. (He) has held me when I have been on the floor in a foetal position shaking, crying and shivering. He has seen me hitting myself in the head with my fist and scratching myself. He’s had to prise my fist away from my head to stop me from hurting myself. Sometimes the emotion takes me over that I become weak and have fainted. My sleep is constantly disturbed and I am tired all the time. I’ve felt tortured by my experiences throughout this process and I need to know that I am safe again and begin to build a life.”
Another of his victims said she was contacted by the police two years ago when they started their investigation into Bancroft.
In court, she said: “Hearing his name again took me right back there, to that flat in Elmstead Road, and that phone call broke thirty years of silence. Giving evidence in this case has been excruciatingly difficult for me, because it has involved revisiting a part of my life that I have spent three decades trying to forget. I have rarely spoken to anyone about what happened all those years ago with Chris Bancroft, I never even told my now-dead parents, my family, my ex-husband, I never spoke about it, I tried to bury it, because above all what I felt was a pervasive sense of shame and self-loathing.
“When a grown man exploits a child – and at 14 I was still very much a child – what it leaves the person with is a distortion of their self-structure, because at that age you are still growing, learning how to be resilient, finding out about the world and about your place within it. What men like Chris Bancroft do is interrupt that natural process, arrest psychological development, and alter a child’s fragile view of themselves. I was more fragile than most, I was a child whom was already floundering, I was deeply unhappy and introspective, I was already exhibiting the prodromal signs of mental health issues, my home life was chaotic and insecure. I was a child who was sinking, and my vulnerability was plain as day. I don’t believe that is a coincidence. Because I believe that had I been a well-adjusted, confident child Chris Bancroft would have had no interest in me.
“I was desperate to belong, desperate to be seen, in many ways, desperate to be saved. And that same sense of fragility that made me malleable, also made me able to keep a secret. To not speak up, to not say no. I have asked myself many times why I didn’t just say no, and for many years I actually believed I consented to what happened with Chris Bancroft. That was what I told myself happened. But in reality, at that age, I was not capable of consenting, and in my innocence, I wasn’t even sure what I was saying yes to. What I knew at the time is that an older man had taken an interest in me and made me feel special. Made me feel seen. I thought he was a good guy, generous and warm. I thought I was lucky to have made such a friend, lucky that a man like him would want to spend time with me. And even though I wasn’t comfortable with the things I allowed him to do to me, I also didn’t think it was up to me. I thought that was the trade-off for having such a good friend. I thought I owed him because of all the nice things he did for me, all the lifts home and compliments. Because Chris Bancroft made me feel special and wanted, and at that age I didn’t have the voice to say no. I didn’t have the maturity to realise that no one who cares for you would ever ask you to do something you clearly didn’t want to.
“Chris Bancroft made us believe that such corruption was normal, even desirable. And it didn’t end when my association with him ended, because for years afterwards I still believed that it had been consensual, that it was OK. Even though deep down it didn’t sit right, I still told myself I was being silly and that it was normal. Because I had learned to swallow down my gut feelings, I had learned to ignore my instincts, because to me any type of intimacy involved submission. What Chris Bancroft did was create a deep distrust of men within me and that has never really gone away, a feeling that sex is something to be feared, that it is dirty, that it involves surrender, that it leaves me without a choice, or a voice.
“My association with Chris Bancroft corrupted my view of all relationships, it made the world feel unsafe, because what I learned from it was that it is normal to give parts of yourself that you really don’t want to give. It made me believe that the price of affection was self-loathing, it made me believe that abuse was just part of the transaction. That acceptance does not come without conditions, that there is always a trade-off, and sometimes the commodity being traded is yourself. Chris Bancroft took something from me that I will never get back, he took a vulnerable, mixed-up girl whom lacked the skills or confidence to fully understand what was happening, and he exploited her for his own pleasure. And at the same time as he was exploiting me, he was also exploiting others. He did this without care or conscience. He did this in a calculated way. He did it because we were no match for him. He did it, quite simply, because he could.
“I am a parent myself now, and the thought of my child ever finding herself in a situation where she is sitting in a dark room with a man who would prey on her innocence sends shivers down my spine. I know for certain that she is unable to consent to anything, because she is a child. Chris Bancroft is a predator whom groomed and then preyed on the vulnerable, knowing that we would never speak up, because we thought he was our friend. Because he knew more than we knew. He knew that at that age we did not possess the autonomy or agency to assert ourselves. And to some extent he was right, because it has taken each one of us 30 years to put words to the emotional violence that he inflicted. Yet, he is the most dangerous type of predator, because he is not a man whom looks or acts like a criminal. He was then, and is now, a man with a good job, who lives in a nice area. He exudes respectability and normality. He was on no one’s radar, no one would’ve suspected this man of any wrongdoing, because, like all predators, he was skilled at living in plain sight.
“To some extent his gamble that we would keep quiet paid off. It has taken me becoming a woman to finally stand up and say that what happened was not ‘normal’. It was not okay. He was not my friend. It has taken all this time to finally say that smallest but most powerful of words: ‘no.’ And during the 30 years when each one of us has been living with the emotional fallout of the events, Chris Bancroft has been living life as a free man, a husband, a father, a career professional. He has had the opportunity to live in different places, and do different jobs. And all the while, veiled in a cloak of respectability, he has been free to pursue his goals and enjoy his life with impunity.
“We have not got off so lightly, each one of us have had to wrestle demons over the decades. Some of us have fared better than others. I can’t speak for the others, but for myself I can tell you that I have been plagued by mental health issues for much of my life, and if I was vulnerable when I met Chris Bancroft, I was trebly so afterwards. My entire adult life has been spent in therapy trying to reconcile the chronic self-hatred and sense of worthlessness that I still feel. Despite everything I did well at school, I went to university, I got a career, but those things meant nothing to me. Because it didn’t matter how many exams I passed, inside I felt worthless, whilst Chris Bancroft has been lucky enough to leave this unsavoury chapter of his life behind. For 30 years we have been in prison while this predator has been free.”