The unknown. The biggest fear of them all. Not knowing what will happen. For me it was the worst I could imagine. All eyes were on me as I entered. Everyone was staring at me. My heart was racing, head reeling, heart pounding. Unsure of what was coming my way. I had never been in a situation quite like it before. Having twelve strangers stare at me, whilst I forced myself not to cry. Isolated and alone. The only thing that kept me going was my father’s smile of reassurance, as he stood what felt like a mile away from me.
Thursday 27th May 2014. The day I realised who my true friends were.
Like any other first year on this particular Thursday, I was deeply engrossed in class. Unexpectedly it was interrupted by my Guidance teacher asking to speak to me. I followed him, oblivious to what was ahead of me. As I walked the bland corridor he told me that the police wanted to speak to me.
I began to tremble. Thoughts clouded my reason. Why? I was only making matters worse, but it was impossible to stop. My mind had taken a route of its own. Ideas swirling and flying. Heart beating; temples thumping. As I entered the enclosed space, two women were seated. One a police officer; the other a social worker. There was also a camera, placed in front of my assigned seat. The interview began.
They pestered me with so many questions. Like if I knew why I happened to be there? Who were my friends? The whole experience was terrifying and I became increasingly distressed as the interview progressed. This was exacerbated by the woman withholding information from me, and not giving me any indication to what was going on. Being kept in the dark scared me the most. Unrealistic scenarios flooding my mind. This caused me to hyperventilate, therefore ending the interview. Following this, they brought my guidance teacher into the room in an attempt to calm me down. They also made a phone call home, to inform my mother of the events. Later I was taken home, and asked to step upstairs whilst the officers spoke to my mum.
When the officers left, my mum called me down. Entering the room, I could see that she had been crying. I sat down and hugged her. She told me the events of the day. I learned that the police had appeared at the door that morning and taken my father away. Lost for words, I discovered that my closest and dearest friend had made allegations against him.
I completely broke down. Multiple emotions were surging throughout my body. I was grief-stricken and utterly heartbroken that my dad had been taken from me. Anger also flooded through me as I felt betrayed and exposed after entrusting everything in my so called “friend”. Only for her to stab me in the back. I felt so alone. I had no-one to turn to. Not only had my father been taken away, but my best friend was the cause of it.
Several meetings passed. New faces regularly appeared. But nothing seemed to progress. Unable to stay in the family home, my father was forced to reside at my uncle’s house nearby.
Family life changed dramatically. As the days passed my thirteen-year old self hoped, that one day everything would just go back to the way it was before. Lamentably, that wasn’t the case.
Days became weeks; weeks became months. The continuous downward slope caused me to lose all hope that things would only have been short-term. Old family life memories began to fade, making way for new ones where separation and disruption became the main themes.
Throughout this time I was appointed a new social worker, Lizzy – or Dizzy Lizzy, as I liked to call her.
From the beginning we clashed. She never listened or even cared about my thoughts and feelings. All she was interested in was gossiping about her weekend, and talking about how many glasses of wine she had had.
I was outraged by this. Not only was she discussing her personal life with me, but was in fact prioritising herself over a vulnerable child. Lizzy kept me utterly in the dark. During the whole time – including the trial – I was left on my own, with no support or help from Dizzy Lizzy.
For my 14-year old self, the anxiety of the unexplained terrified me. Having to give evidence before a judge and jury was petrifying. I was present during three days of the trial and returned to school for the remaining two. During this time, I had no involvement from social work. Of all times, Lizzy chose the time of the court case to go incognito and leave me abandoned, trying to unravel and comprehend my own feelings. At the time when I needed support the most, there was none.
As my mother returned on the last day of the trial, I braced myself awaiting who would walk through the front door with her. However, the world was against me that day. My father did not walk through the door. He wasn’t coming home, and I was going have to live with that. Of course I was frustrated but by this time I was getting used to it. I felt the system had cheated me! I had obeyed the rules and told the truth, only for it to be flung back at me by none other than a girl I once called my ‘best friend’. My father had been ripped from me and although I was able to speak to him on the phone, it was not reassuring enough for me.
For four months I was denied contact with my dad. It was eventually agreed at a Children’s Panel on January 21st 2015, that I would be allowed to visit him in Barlinnie prison.
Visiting Barlinnie prison became a monthly occurrence and a traumatising one at that. Wednesday nights; seven o’clock. Lining up to sign in; carrying on through to the waiting area; eventually being called to proceed upstairs to the visitation room. The first visitation. The anticipation nearly killed me as I sat patiently waiting for him to walk through the door. I turned to speak to my mum just as she pointed towards the large steel door. A smile spread across my father’s face from ear to ear. Tears of joy flowed down my cheek. I was finally assured that my dad was okay. He phoned every night. Conversations were often about how school was going as I relied on that as a distraction from what was going on in the world around me. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel hatred towards the criminal justice system for separating my dad and me, and although they were receiving the brunt of my frustration I had to acknowledge just how much unnecessary suffering my so called ‘friend’ had put us through.
Furthermore, criminal justice refused me contact with my dad for twelve weeks after he left prison. I believed this was a breach of my human rights, which led me to writing a letter addressed to the Scottish Parole Board telling them my thoughts on the matter. To begin with, I thought it was a bit extreme to have to send a letter away to Edinburgh in order to be listened to, but in the long run it proved effective. Contact was reinstated quickly after this in the form of weekly supervised contact. However, since June 2017 my compulsory supervision order was removed and finally my dad moved back into the family home.
Although family life will never be the same was it once was, it is wonderful to be a family unit again. The whole experience has caused me to mature at an earlier age. It has also encouraged me to share my story with others, to let others see what it is like to be in a situation like mine. This sad, destructive experience has made my family stronger. But it has also taught me a hard lesson; even if you are innocent you can be found guilty.