DCSIMG

Was my paedophile dad a murderer too?

‘I REMEMBER you as a child.’ Those words trigger memories in all of us of our youth and an innocence long gone.

For Sandra Brown, they might have reminded her of life growing up in 1950s Scotland, the eldest child of three and the only girl.

Her parents had their share of problems, with her bus driver dad known as a bit of a ladies’ man, which ultimately led to her parents’ divorce. But the family seemed otherwise unremarkable - except that for several years Sandra was told her father was in a hospital "that children couldn’t visit".

But a comment from a long-forgotten acquaintance heralded the discovery of the sickening truth - her father was a convicted paedophile.

To suddenly learn that the man who brought you up had been jailed at Saughton prison for raping your 13-year-old babysitter would be an awful revelation at any time.

To find out such a grim secret from your childhood at a party years later through a chance conversation is unimaginable. But to then come face to face with your father for the first time since discovering the truth and hear him suggest that he is also responsible for one of Scotland’s most notorious child murders just does not bear thinking about.

Sandra not only thought about it, however, she launched an extraordinary crusade which spawned a best-selling book accusing her father of the unsolved case of Coatbridge schoolgirl Moira Anderson, who went missing in 1957.

The book, Where there is Evil, published in 1998, later led to a hard-hitting Channel 4 documentary watched by millions.

Meanwhile, Sandra’s quest for justice led her to found a national charity in Moira’s name supporting child abuse victims and their families across Scotland.

Today, sitting in her home in Edinburgh, Sandra is preparing to tell her incredible story in her own words in a new play about ordinary women achieving the extraordinary.

It will, she says, focus on "pivotal" moments in her past, including the two conversations which changed her life forever.

Now 56, she recalls the shocking day in 1985 when she found out her father’s sinister secret. She says: "I was 36, living in Pitlochry with my husband and two children. It happened at an after-show party for an amateur dramatic production of Aladdin which I was in.

"This woman said she remembered me as a little girl in Coatbridge. Then she said: ‘I always felt really sorry for what happened to your father’. Something made me ask what she meant.

"And she said: ‘When he got sent to prison, but you’ll know about that’. I said no, and she said: ‘It was about the rape of your babysitter’.

"I don’t think she realised the impact of what she had just said."

Sandra realised the awful truth about her father’s 18-month absence from the family home "in a hospital children can’t visit".

As an eight-year-old she had not questioned her mother’s explanation of events.

Confronting her mother as an adult, her worst fears were confirmed. Her father, Alexander Gartshore, had been locked up after being found guilty of the rape.

"My mum had the same view as the woman at the after-show party. She said the wee girl was a Lolita," Sandra says now, adding: "The girl was only 13."

UNLIKE her mother, Sandra, who now runs a training consultancy dealing with child safety issues, became firmly convinced of her father’s guilt as other bewildering memories from her past became disturbingly clear to her.

"I remembered as a child my friends used to say they couldn’t play with me because my dad did funny things. When you’re six or seven you think that is to do with comedy. Nobody could say to your face you’re not to play with my daughter because your father is not safe to be around.

"He never touched me inappropriately, but I remember feeling very uncomfortable around him."

It was not until 1992 that Sandra met her father again at a family funeral.

"I went to speak to him, really to tell him what a waste of space I thought he was as a parent. He was very sorry for himself, saying his own father had treated him like the black sheep of the family.

"He ended up saying that he had been treated like the black sheep over Moira Anderson, that his father had thought that he had something to do with it [her disappearance]. I was traumatised."

She was then left with an awful decision. Should she ignore this new horror to save her family from further hell, or ask police to investigate her belief that her own father - who was the driver on the bus Moira was last seen boarding - was guilty of abduction and murder?

"I had to make some very difficult choices. One of them was to ensure that Moira was not going to be forgotten.

"It was a decision which has affected more than a decade of my life, but I have no regrets. Until I went to the police I did not know he had been involved with [the abuse of] four of my cousins too."

Her decision created rifts in her family, with some relatives cutting off her and her family - husband, Ronnie and children Ross and Lauren, both in their 20s.

Although the police took Sandra seriously enough to reopen the case, charges were never brought against her father, now in his 80s and living in Leeds. A deathbed confession by Gartshore’s friend and fellow convicted paedophile, James Gallogley, which came to light in 2003, failed to bring about fresh investigations.

The 15-page letter stated that Gartshore had sedated Moira before abusing her and leaving her in his bus, where she died "from the cold" and was then disposed of.

It is also said to have named several other people in the area including members of the police and legal profession whom Gallogley claimed were part of a paedophile ring. Sandra believes that it is the existence of a ring which explains why the case has not gone further forward.

She adds: "I remain utterly convinced that my father is responsible for that little girl’s abduction and murder, which is still very hard to say, although I don’t believe he did all of that on his own.

"I will never give up in the search for justice for that child."

Returning to discuss the forthcoming play, womensbusiness, on June 26 in London at the Soho Theatre, when Sandra will appear along with nursery nurse Lisa Potts, who was injured protecting children in a machete attack, she says: "It’s scary."

Not that that will stop her taking part, but it is only recently that she has accepted that what she has done is extraordinary. "

I did not think I was brave at the time but I have realised that I’m braver than I thought. There has to be something good that has come out of such a negative horror story."

With her charity, the Moira Anderson Foundation, now in its fifth year, there are dozens of child abuse victims who can testify that she has achieved that aim.

And with work already under way on a new book, plus talk of a second Channel 4 documentary, she means it when she says "this is not the end of the story".

For more information about the Moira Anderson Foundation, visit www.moiraanderson.com or call 01236 602890

Mystery of little girl last seen on bus driven by a pervert

SCHOOLGIRL Moira Anderson vanished on 23 February, 1957, after getting caught in a blizzard on her way to run an errand to the shops.

The 11-year-old was last seen getting on to a bus in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, driven by paedophile Alexander Gartshore, who has repeatedly denied any involvement in her disappearance.

In 1992, police quizzed Gartshore over the case after his daughter Sandra Brown told officers she believed her father was guilty of abducting and murdering the girl.

Sandra said that Gartshore had "slipped up" and told her that his father had accused him of being involved in Moira’s disappearance.

At the time Moira vanished, Gartshore was on bail after being arrested over the rape of a 13-year-old babysitter.

Charges were never brought against Gartshore over the Moira Anderson case.

In 2003, fresh evidence was revealed in the shape of an apparent deathbed confession by James Gallogley.

He claimed that Gartshore sedated Moira with chloroform on his bus and abused her, leaving her in his bus where she died from the extreme cold.

He also alleged Gartshore, with an accomplice, then dumped Moira’s body.

 
 
 

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