IN THE midst of lockdown, Maud Clarke, originally from Enniskillen, spoke over Facetime with her sister, who was living in London.

The call, in March 2021, was supposed to be a catch-up after months of Covid-19 restrictions. But the conversation, as it often did, turned to something much, darker.

Up until this point, the sexual abuse that both Maud and her sister said they suffered when they were only children was something that they had always, for the most part, kept to themselves.

But the abuse had left a lasting impact on them both, and over-five-decades on, the truth began to come out.

Over that call, it was claimed that David Collins, their brother-in-law, had sexually abused one of them. Then Maud revealed she too had been abused.

This chance conversation over three-years-ago set in motion a path of justice, healing and hope for the local siblings. The historic crimes were, after so many years, reported to police.

Collins, who is now 80, was brought to court, facing 10 charges dating from March 1968 to April 1974.

At a recent trial at Dungannon Crown Court, sitting in Newry, both women took to the witness box about what had happened to them.

And while Collins, of Kilmacormick Road, Enniskillen, was deemed unfit to stand trial, a jury found that he subjected the women to sexual abuse when they were just young children.

After hearing all the evidence, the jury concluded that Collins had committed three acts of indecent assault on one sister, as well as two acts of gross indecency.

The jury also agreed that he had committed one count of indecent assault and one count of gross indecency against Maud.

They acquitted him of two further counts of indecent assault, and one count of attempted rape against Maud.

He will be sentenced in the coming weeks.

“It’s a victory for us,” Maud said, speaking to The Impartial Reporter after waiving her right to anonymity.

“Even if one person has the courage to come forward about sexual abuse when they read that after 56-years-later these two sisters have gotten justice, I will be happy.

“If our story saves any wee innocent child from suffering, I will be happy.”

Despite happening over half-a-century ago, talking about the abuse that she, and her sister, say they suffered as children is still incredibly difficult to recount.

Maud still winces as she recalls those incidents when she says Collins started abusing her.

Maud also says incidents occurred during family trips, including at Castle Archdale.

She says it continued when Collins moved to the Kilmacormick area of Enniskillen.

Maud says she was abused frequently, but she soon distanced herself from that house, instead claiming that she had “homework to do.”

She found it hard to concentrate on school, as the abuse she says she suffered by Collins, and a lack of support from her mother, had set her on the wrong path.

“We did nothing only get in trouble,” she said. “We were doing things we shouldn’t have been doing, anything from shoplifting to stealing cars for spins.

“We would do anything to get back at my mother. I always blamed her for giving him (Collins) a free hand to do what he did.

“She was told it was going on, and my sister got reprimanded. That was the end of us telling her anything of what was going on. To this day I blame her.”

Maud said that she eventually left Enniskillen at the age of 20, moving to Dungannon where she later married. However, adolescent feelings of “not being heard” had led to alcohol abuse, which followed her for most of her adult life.

“The alcohol was a direct result. I started drinking at the age 15 or 16, and I would do anything to wind my mother up and disobey her.

“Life was miserable, and we became alcoholics. I nearly destroyed my life and my children’s because of drink.

“I have been caught drink driving. I have committed fraud. I have collected benefits while working because I couldn’t get myself enough money to buy drink.

“It all related back to us not being heard, not being believed, and when the person that was supposed to protect you did not.”

Maud admits that she is forced to live with “the shame” of her past but said that said these feelings pale in comparison to the shame she felt at having been sexually abused and having to keep it all a secret.

However, she described the feelings of reporting her traumatic experience of sexual abuse as “a weight being lifted off her shoulders”.

“My whole life I have found it hard to move on, but to be honest, I never felt as relieved as when I did tell it,” she said.

“There is no humiliation anymore. You think you have to carry this shame; you think you have done wrong because you have hidden this shame. You think are guilty of this, or that.

“But to hear someone say, ‘Maud, there’s no shame on you. Shame on him’, was a relief. I can talk to people honestly now. I have spent my life trying to read people.”

“But to hear someone say, ‘Maud, there’s no shame on you. Shame on him’, was a relief. I can talk to people honestly now. I have spent my life trying to read people.”

Maud’s decision to speak on her trauma followed a conscious effort to address her alcohol abuse. This was triggered when her first grandchildren, which made her “look at life differently”.

“When those two (Aaron and Theo) were born in 2013, I knew I had to turn a corner,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I still have the odd drink now and again, but not the bottles of vodka I used to drown my sorrows in.

“It’s been a bumpy road and it wasn’t easy turning away. There is always that guilt about the past, but I feel my children know now the reason for my behaviour. They understand, especially now that they are older.

“I have a good family, I am really proud and appreciative of them. Joyce and I got a bad name through drinking, but there is a way of turning it around. There is the proof in my pudding.”

On the walls of the living room hang photos of her adoring family. Her grown-up children, Nigel and Estelle, pose proudly with their families.

Her six grandchildren are pictured smiling and laughing.

“They love coming here, they love spending time with their granny,” she said, proudly.

“When you look at them wee girls, sleeping in their beds, I knew how safe they were with me. I didn’t have that. I am very protective over them given what I have went through.”

Maud admits of feeling “robbed of many things” - but the joys of her family that she is proud of is not one of them.

The road to moving past decades-old sexual abuse has been long and winding. She admits that while some days are better than others, ultimately, she is in much better place these days.

And these positive feelings about the future were enhanced by outcome of the trial, she said.

“The day we saw him (Collins) in court, it was a good feeling,” she said. “I held my head up high in court that day, while he dropped his.

“At times, it hasn’t been easy. Many a time in three years I said to my sister, the sorriest thing I have ever done was report this. At times, it was a bit overwhelming, but we got through it.

“I am especially glad for my sister, who was branded a lair all her life.

“For too long it was all brushed under the carpet, and it was never talked about again. It all changed that day I came forward.”

The Impartial Reporter contacted Mr. Collins yesterday (Wednesday) at his home but a family member said he was unavailable to comment.