Interview given by Eric Cullen to The Big Issue in Scotland

Given a week before Eric's death and published two weeks after it on 30th August 1996, under the title "Eric Cullen: the last interview" - three years to the day after the police came to Eric's door and brought an end to his fifteen years of abuse.

Eric Cullen seen through window, with cigarette - photo' which accompanied original Big Issue article

On Friday August 9, The Big Issue's Lindsay McGarvie spent a day with actor Eric Cullen, famous for his TV role as Wee Burney. The story he heard was of a wounded but determined campaigner, battling to protect children from the nightmare of sexual abuse - and to bring his own attackers to justice.

Sadly, just seven days later, Cullen died. What follows is the last in-depth interview with one of Scotland's best-known actors.

It is dedicated to the memory of Eric Cullen, and to all the children he so desperately wanted to protect.

The first thing that struck me was the sleek black Mercedes parked outside Eric's Hamilton home. It was Eric's car, and all four tires had been slashed - tangible evidence, he said, of the hate campaign being waged against him as he sought to bring to justice the men who abused him for 15 years.

More harrowing still were the scars on his wrists and the fresh wounds on his forehead, only partially hidden by his fringe. They were, he said, a self-inflicted response to his abusers' harassment.

The self injury was a symptom of the post traumatic stress disorder he'd been diagnosed as suffering. There were others: intense flashbacks, suicide attempts - all responses to the abuse he had endured from the age of 13.

But now, as his determination to bring a private case against his abusers gathered pace, thoughts of suicide seemed far from the 31-year-old's mind. "If I die tomorrow," he said, "I want to be remembered not for being a professional victim, but for standing up against my abusers."

His words may have now taken on an awesome significance, but I am convinced Eric Cullen still had a lot of standing up to do. I had made contact with him while researching a news story on a proposed directory of convicted paedophiles. Believing his story had never been accurately told, he asked if I would interview him so that, through The Big Issue in Scotland, the public could hear it from his perspective.

The story he told was beyond my comprehension. It has haunted me ever since.

Between the ages of 13 and 28 he was, he said, the victim of a paedophile ring which involved, among others, Scout leader Francis Currens, currently serving 14 years in Peterhead Prison for sex offences against young boys. The rest are still at large. [Eric's uncle Jack Williams has been jailed since this was written, but the leader of the group has never been arrested, or even investigated.]

They used to take him to public toilets, where he was subjected to a degrading catalogue of horrors: "They would take me into a cubicle and force me to have oral sex, or be sodomised, with men watching through holes, shouting encouragement all the time. I'd be screaming and crying through the whole ordeal, which often involved gang rape.

"It's hard for people to hear about these things, but the harsh reality is that what happened to me in the public toilets in Glasgow's Buchanan Street, or Buchanan Street bus station, could happen to any child."

In many ways, Eric Cullen's story was typical of most sexually abused children. His tormentors used brainwashing psychology to convince the 13-year-old that he was a bad person, that he would get into trouble if he ever told anyone about his abuse. People would think he was gay, they told him.

He said they also used the combination of his achondroplasia (stunted growth) and the fact that he was adopted to silence him.

"From the age of 13, they shaved my body hair to make me look like the child they wanted me to be. Even in my late twenties they drummed it into me that, to them, I was a 12 or 13-year-old. They said I'd be taken away from my parents if I told, and I fully believed them. Now I know that I would not have got into trouble if I'd told my parents."

In the end, Cullen's parents heard about his abuse when his story first appeared in a newspaper.

Through his role as Wee Burney in the BBC comedy series Rab C Nesbitt, Eric Cullen had become a household name and, he said, a prime target for blackmail.

On August 30 1993, police seized pornographic videos from Cullen's home. Cullen insisted they were planted there for blackmail purposes by one of his abusers. When the police finally came for the videos, Cullen felt a strange sense of relief.

"I thought that would be the end of my abuse. I knew there was a chance that everyone would find out I'd been abused, but at least my ordeal would stop, and these men would be locked away from children."

But things did not turn out quite as Cullen hoped. When the actor's connection with the police enquiries became public knowledge, the label of abuser and pervert was linked to Cullen's name. The stigma stayed with him to the end of his short life.

The enquiry surrounding Cullen's case turned into Scotland's own OJ Simpson-style media circus, with a continual round of rumours and allegations. "It was never Eric Cullen that was on trial," the actor said. "In the eyes of many, it was the uncouth, delinquent Wee Burney up there in the witness box."

Everyone in Scotland seemed to have an opinion or a joke about "Wee Burney". In his summing up at Hamilton Sheriff Court, sheriff Alexander MacPherson stated that extensive investigations into all aspects of Cullen's case established beyond doubt that he was not involved in child abuse of any form.

"At no time was I ever accused of child abuse. Yes, I did have those indecent videos in my house. But what was never clearly explained to the public was that I was being blackmailed into keeping them by one of my abusers, and my lawyer advised me to plead guilty to these charges because physically and mentally I couldn't have stood up to a long intense court case. The only time I ever saw those horrific videos was in Hamilton police station, when I was identifying my abuser."

Those videos were the only evidence the police had against Francis Currens, and were instrumental in his eventual conviction for child sex abuse.

Eric Cullen was sentenced to nine months on indecency charges. At appeal, his sentence was quashed, and in the end, he served only 15 days in the "indescribable hell" of Barlinnie Prison. One year later, he was still suffering from widespread accusations that he was a convicted paedophile.

"People still see me as some kind of weirdo, who has no right to be ranting on about child abuse. I want them to know that my abusers are still at large.

"I get an overwhelming sense that people don't understand the brutalising effect of child abuse. I just feel it's high time people in Scotland got a grip on the fact that I'm not going to disappear. I simply want then to know that I was a victim of abuse, and not an abuser.

"I've got to speak out to save children's lives."

He still had his dark days of depression. On the day of our first interview, he was vague and rambling, due to the anti-depressants he was taking after a weekend of threatening phone calls, and the vandalism of his car.

But there were also many good days, when he looked forward to returning to college to upgrade his ordinary psychology degree to honours level, and talked of his desire to return to acting.

It was not that he wanted to become as high profile as he'd been as Wee Burney, but he had wanted back on stage since the time of the police raid in August 93.

"Being on stage is one of the few things that makes me well," he said. Tragically, he died just as the offer came to take back his old part in Rab C Nesbitt.

On the Friday before he died, Eric Cullen offered to let me interview him again, for several hours this time, at the home of his friends Bill and Caroline1McFarlan. Afterwards, he invited me out for a meal with several of his closest friends. I will always remember him from that night, cracking jokes rapid-fire, and happy among people who trusted and stood by him.

"When I'm gone," he joked, adopting a high theatrical accent, "all the luvvies who dropped me so quickly will come out and say what a darling I was."

It seems eerie now, thinking about him saying such things, but perhaps having endured the horrors he had, and having been suicidal in the past, it was natural he might speculate on how others would portray him publicly after his death. But that night at dinner he was certainly not acting like a man contemplating death.

I was working on Eric Cullen's story on the day he died. I had only known him a short while. But, like several other people who got involved in his case, I had become deeply affected by the brutality of his story.

In open court, Eric Cullen had been cleared of involvement in any form of child abuse. Yet his name will be forever linked with paedophilia. The hand he was dealt since birth seems grossly unfair. His congenital illness and adoptive status made him easy prey for his abusers. Even the success and fame he achieved as an actor made him a target of blackmail - and the publicity surrounding his case cost him his beloved acting career.

But he was no defeatist. Towards the end, Eric Cullen was fighting back against his alleged abusers by attempting to bring them to justice. Tragically, he died before fulfilling that aim.

These men would have shed few tears on his passing, no doubt, but there is still the possibility that Eric Cullen's statements could be used posthumously against them in court.

"If only one more of my abusers is locked away then I'll feel it's all been worthwhile. God only knows how many children one of these men abuses in a lifetime."

Had his life not been cut short, I believe Eric Cullen would have kept on speaking out, chipping away at those who persisted in labelling him a pervert. On the subject of child abuse, he spoke with the commitment of a zealot. What mattered, he said, was fighting to save children's lives. It mattered more to him than clearing his own tarnished name.

"I've got nothing to lose now," Cullen told me. "So I feel it's time that the world was told what these men did to me and others like me."

Seven days later, Eric Cullen - who never harmed a child, who never slashed anyone's car tyres, who wanted only to protect the vulnerable and abused - died in Hairmyres Hospital of a heart attack.

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