A woman who was repeatedly raped by both her father and brother as a child has revealed that a crucial medical document she had no memory of helped jail the pair.
Sarah Sidebottom, 54, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, has spoken of her relief after her father Arthur William Bowditch, 73, and her brother, Arthur Stephen Bowditch, 54, was jailed for a total of 32 years.
The first attack, when she was just three-and-a-half years old, left her needing surgery to repair internal damage and it was these hospital notes which proved crucial in securing a conviction for the abuse, which began almost 50 years go.
And now Sarah, a happily married mother-of-two, has waived her right to anonymity to speak for the first time of her appalling trauma.
She said: ‘I had no idea about the surgery until 2021, and I saw my medical records. I was horrified, but at the same time, this was exactly what the prosecution needed to build a case against my father.’
‘After staying silent for nearly 50 years, part of my healing process is having a voice and speaking out.’
Sarah revealed that her first memory of the abuse is aged three-and-a-half years, when she was taken from her bed, put in her father’s bed, and raped.
‘I remember the pain but more than anything. I remember his hand clamped over my mouth to stifle my screams’ she said.
She was so badly injured by the assaults, which took place at the family home in Chard, Somerset, that she had to undergo surgery in hospital before her fourth birthday.
Her father told doctors she had fallen onto the handle of a go-cart.
Revisiting the ordeal, Sarah said her dad, a well known local builder, had two sides to him and would often range from very charming and sweet to very violent and twisted.
She said: ‘My father left me alone for two years, and the attacks started again when I was around 6.’
‘Every time my mother was out, he took the opportunity to assault and rape me. He used objects on me.’
‘One was a wooden handle of a spade. He also assaulted me in the stables at the side of the bungalow where we had horses.’
‘Once, when he told me to go to his bedroom, I said no. I was around 10 years old. He pulled me off the sofa by my hair and kicked me all the way to the bedroom.’
‘He was choking me on the bed and I asked him to kill me, to put me out my misery. After he had gone, I tried to smother myself with the pillow.’
‘I just wanted it all to end. It was the last time I ever dared to try to stand up to him.’
She added that he kept guns in the garage, and once warned her that if she ever spoke out about the abuse, ‘he’d shoot me or he’d shoot my mother.’
Sarah’s parents separated when she was just 13, and she hoped that this would mark the end of her nightmare. But her horror reached new heights when older brother, Arthur Stephen, known as Stephen, came to live with them.
Stephen, who was 17 at the time, moved in and immediately began raping his own sister.
‘I couldn’t believe it was happening again. Stephen raped me and it was horrendous’ she said.
Sarah kept the gruesome attacks to herself and went on to repress the memories for decades.
She attempted office work and a hospitality career, but her life was plagued by memories of the attacks – and after two daughters and a second marriage, she ultimately knew what she had to do.
In 2019, with the support of her new husband, Darren, 56, Sarah made an official complaint to the police, and in October 2021, to her horror, she was shown a copy of her medical records, including details of the surgery to repair internal damage from the rape.
Sarah said: ‘I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had no memory of going into hospital, no memory at all of the operation. I have scarring down below, but I never really thought of it in connection with the sexual abuse.
‘The police told me the letter was vital in the decision to bring charges against my father and brother.
‘I wasn’t allowed to ask my mother about the surgery, in case it prejudiced the trial. But she sadly died, just before the trial began, so I never got the chance to talk to her about it. I felt cheated. I have so many unanswered questions.’
The police investigation did not go smoothly, and Sarah claims officers told her they had lost her files, meaning the case was delayed by seven months.
She said: ‘I didn’t hear anything, month after month. Then I was told my file had been lost. I asked to be kept up to date with the progress, and yet it was me chasing the police, all the time.
‘I didn’t really feel they tried to empathise with how stressful it was for me. I had flashbacks to the abuse and nightmares, where I tried to fight my attackers off, and I woke with real bruises.’
In June 2022, Arthur William Bowditch, 73, and his son Arthur Stephen Bowditch, then aged 54, appeared before Swansea Crown Court, having previously been convicted of multiple counts of rape and indecent assaults against young girls.
The court heard Bowditch junior has a previous conviction from 1989 for indecent assaults of a girl under 14.a