The Curious Case of the Clown Persecution Service

Eric Cullen was born on July 12
th 1965 to an unmarried mother. She named him Bernard - so he was always destined to be Wee Burney one way or the other.

Eric Cullen on sofa, holding book: one of two photo's which originally accompanied article in The Big Issue

When only a few weeks old he was adopted by a Hamilton family who gave him an idyllic early childhood, marred only by his smallness. All his life his adoptive parents adored him, and he them: but at 7, when he was diagnosed as an achondroplastic dwarf, social services asked if they wanted him put in a children's home.

They were horrified: but at 13, when a trusted uncle raped him saying that as he was only adopted, and a dwarf, if he told he'd be taken from his family and put in a children's home, Eric could easily believe it.

Like most sex-abuse victims he was too confused, scared and embarrassed to tell anyone, even when his relative shared him with a paedophile-ring. Besides, this mild, gentle, almost partially-sighted boy the size of a normal 6-year-old, already bullied at school, was warned everyone would think he was gay.

The abuse was vicious. Eric later described being gang-raped and forced into oral sex with strangers in public lavatories, screaming and crying in agony and humiliation while his relative enjoyed the spectacle - often with a cheering pack of spectators waiting their turn with him. Loaned out like a commodity for savage beatings and sexual torture, then told he was bad and "asked for it", he was overwhelmed by this brutality, which continued throughout his teens: much of it in a mad fog, his glasses being removed to prevent his identifying his attackers. Years later he wrote "I know what it is like to scream for mercy - but never to receive any".

Highly intelligent, a promising child-actor, Eric had great humour and strength of character, but became so disturbed and dazed with misery he ended up in remedial school. Alternating between two worlds, one lovingly supportive, one hellish, he allowed his family to assume his obvious depression was due to his dwarfism.

The abuse continued into his 20s: his controllers shaved his body and forced him to pretend to be the child he resembled, so their paedophile contacts would still fancy him. It never became less horrific or easier to bear, but he somehow gained Highers, then a Psychology degree, while being routinely raped.

Eventually his torturers lost interest: he was now solidly adult, and once he started appearing on TV again their paedophile friends would presumably realize he wasn't a real child. Tortured but determined, he became primary-school teacher; candidate for the Church of Scotland ministry; TV-star - with an enthusiastically heterosexual sex-life. But once Rab C Nesbitt and "Wee Burney" became famous his abusers, realizing he had money, returned to beat and blackmail him, threatening to expose the sexual slavery they themselves forced on him.

He should have told the police: but so should all victims of serious abuse. Child-sized, with internal adhesions making being beaten exceptionally painful, he knew the gang's violence intimately and feared brutal punishment, even murder, if he fought back. Too scared to think straight, like so many silent victims he was paralysed by "learned helplessness", believing himself worthless, powerless and disgusting: he'd cringe with embarrassment if the details became public, and feared widespread revulsion would destroy the acting career he depended on for some sense of self-worth. And though he'd told some people he'd been abused, he wished to protect his parents from knowing.

So he paid and paid, inhabiting two worlds again: in one able and admired, self-mockingly aware of his own comic genius; in the other an item of property without rights even over his own body. He was no longer abused by the most violent of his tormentors, the frenziedly sadistic "sodomising scoutmaster" Francis Currens, who preferred 7-year-olds; but was still subjected to occasional sexual assault by others in the gang.

Dazed, beaten, debased, told by his abusers that for them he was still a child and always would be, he was brainwashed into childish passivity in anything relating to the abuse. Professionally he was a manic scene-stealer - driven by a desperate need for the audience laughter which made him feel whole and sane, combined with a powerful ego which outlasted all humiliation.

Like a battered wife, thinking if he told no-one would believe or care, he resigned himself to suffering, hid his bruises, put on a brave face and gave a good performance as Wee Burney before going home to a thrashing or worse. Outwardly successful, flash Merc mocking playground bullies who'd taunted him as too small ever to drive, he was a keen charity-supporter: but in private he 'phoned the Samaritans, drifting in and out of alcoholism.

During this period he traced his birth-mother. Intense press interest in "Wee Burney's girlfriend" had wrecked one relationship: dreading another media circus, he kept this reunion strictly private. When she sold the story to the press he felt betrayed by his own mother: they quarrelled bitterly and never spoke again.

A few months later, in summer 1993, on or about Eric's 28th birthday, the gang took brutal steps to reinforce their control over him. Eric was told that if he disobeyed he would again be abused by Currens, of whom he was utterly terrified. He was then raped to remind him what he had to fear, and compromized by being forced to commit an offence on film. The details were and are sensitive in relation to another case, but it was a minor matter involving no harm to or physical contact with anyone else. Nevertheless it made it even harder for him to go to the police. It is standard practice for paedophile rings deliberately to compromize their victims, for precisely that reason.

Immediately afterwards Eric was ordered to store part of a collection of paedophile pornography - featuring video-tapes of Currens raping little boys. Paralysed by terror, Eric still had this material in his house a few weeks later when the police arrived, saying they understood pornography had been left with him - evidently aware of the circumstances and that Eric was not the owner or user of this material. Hysterical mainly with relief, the abuse finally being over, he handed over his tormentors' collection. He himself told the police how and why he had been compromized.

These policemen said they were investigating Currens, and Eric must keep their visit secret for fear of alerting him. Clearly they saw him as Currens' enemy, not a willing associate who'd warn him. The story was leaked within a few hours - presumably by a policeman or someone in the Crown Prosecution Service. The press raged against "Wee Pervy", while Currens, alerted that police were closing in, had time to destroy evidence.

Profoundly insecure after years being taught he was dirty and bad, Eric minded desperately what people thought of him. He was distraught at being called dirty and bad by the media, now, and classed with paedophiles who revolted him; but the sub judice rule forbade his defending himself. His employers believed the tabloids; so his abusers wrecked his career as he'd feared. TV-colleagues deserted in droves: but local people who'd known him since childhood sent their children to clean and shop for him, asking him to baby-sit to show they trusted him completely.

No "showbiz" type, but a broad-spoken lad who liked a drink and a laugh - but, unlike Wee Burney, almost painfully refined and well-mannered (favourite exclamation "Oh gosh") - he stayed round the corner from his parents, among the people he'd grown up with, seemingly on first-name terms with half Lanarkshire. Though exceptionally kind, given to adopting neglected dogs and fretting over others' sorrows, he'd distrusted love since his uncle said "I love you" while raping him: but he was more truly loved by more people than anyone else I know.

In deep shock, and devastated by the hysterical hostility of the press, Eric spent weeks on a psychiatric ward, while media-inspired vigilantes howled hatred outside. To stop his abusers abusing others, Eric offered to testify; but was so ill that being quizzed about the abuse by police while in hospital, with no nurse or doctor present, reduced him to screaming, incoherent collapse. Rather than trying again once his condition improved, the Fiscal Depute told police not to investigate Eric's accusations until his own case ended - a 2-year delay.

While helping police jail Currens for 14 years, Eric had to watch his abusers' tapes - hour after hour of boys being raped as he'd been. Far from his enjoying this sordid viewing, it triggered violent flashbacks and acute Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome ("shell-shock"), destroying the defence-mechanisms which kept him sane. Overwhelmed by sickening memories, he even lost interest in women, seeing himself as sexless.

Despite his suffering Eric had such warmth, wit and vivacity that many who began by pitying him ended up personally devoted to him. The McFarlan family, who'd hardly known him before the scandal broke, came to love and trust him absolutely. They helped him trust love itself, saving his life and sanity; though he still suffered nightmares, flashbacks, panic-attacks, near-catatonic collapses and bouts of beating his head against the wall until he bled.

While investigating both Eric and Currens police found an undeveloped film bearing a 5-year-old snap of two boys "mooning" and another showing Eric doing the same alongside one of these boys. Eric insisted these were taken by Currens, in the course of abuse in which he was routinely forced to pose naked. He believed the film was found in Currens' house rather than his own. In spring 1994 he was charged with having illegal pornography in his house and exposing himself to the boys in these "mooning" shots. He agreed to plead guilty to both offences, insisting Currens forced him to commit them.

No-one suggested Eric owned the pornography or ever viewed it except at the police-station; nor doubted he'd been terrorized into storing it. Raw terror is no defence in law: technically just having this material in his house was a sexual offence. However, it is very unusual for an abuse victim to be prosecuted for incidents which occurred while being abused - suggesting Eric was singled out for being famous, and/or so the tabloids wouldn't claim he'd been let off because he was famous.

The police said they had been tipped off about the tapes in Eric's house by another victim on whom the gang had also dumped pornography. When Eric asked why this guy was not also prosecuted for possessing illegal material he was told that a) the man had given information anonymously and the police didn't know who he was and b) the police knew he had since died of Aids - which could hardly both be true.

The Crown Prosecution Service spent 2 years prosecuting Eric for minuscule offences while ignoring his evidence about a gang of serial, sadistic rapists preying on children. There was some indication the police and/or CPS actively didn't want evidence against Eric's abusers, other than Currens. The CPS refused to investigate Eric's uncle, a church elder, saying he had no history of sex offences and there was nothing against him except Eric's word. Years later, when it emerged that the uncle had a prior conviction for a serious sexual assault on a teenage boy, the CPS claimed to have lost all record of it.

Eric certainly told the police that the leader and worst of the gang was not Currens, nor his uncle, but another convicted sex-offender. I was told that Eric told the police the tapes etc. belonged to and/or had been dumped on him by this other man. This point is unclear, since Eric himself said at least once that the tapes had been dumped on him by Currens - but there was certainly a good chance members of the gang other than Currens had handled the pornography.

If the police suspected Eric was lying when he said he had never watched the pornographic tapes, they should have checked them for his fingerprints - if they believed he was telling the truth, then for those of his abusers'. The material never was fingerprinted.

At best this was gross incompetence: at worst, a deliberate decision not to identify any members of the gang other than Currens - raising the possibility that the gang's leader set Currens up in return for immunity from prosecution, and had himself told police they would find tapes of Currens in Eric's house. The CPS even declined to call Eric as a witness against Currens; despite Eric having been a major source of information against him.

Around New Year 1995, just before Eric was due in court, he was suddenly charged with actually taking the "mooning" shots, and making a "lewd" video at a Boys' Brigade camp.

Photography was Eric's hobby. From 300 hours of his home-movies police considered only one 15-second clip questionable. Part of film of an entire BB weekend, made to be shown publicly at Christmas, this clip showed boys milling about in tracksuits, plus a few still dressing. It was shot in the presence of the camp's organizer, who said that Eric had been chivvying the boys to hurry up, and not paying much attention to what he was filming. She viewed the whole tape for the police and gave a sworn deposition that she saw nothing sexual in it whatsoever. All the boys concerned insisted they had no complaint against Eric.

He was accused of "repeatedly" focusing on boys' genitals, because one undressed boy crossed the shot which zoomed very rapidly in and out around his middle - about Eric's eye-level - several times. This flickering focus would probably be impossible to reproduce manually - but is characteristic of an autofocus camcorder like Eric's "searching" automatically on a large pale object which interrupts its field of view.

When Eric refused to plead guilty to these new charges, protesting his innocence, intimidation was used. The Regional Fiscal later ordered an investigation into his Depute's conduct.

Eric was refused permission to plead guilty to only two of the four charges, and told that if he pled not guilty to taking the two "mooning" shots, and to having sexual motivation for the BB tape, he must also plead not guilty to storing Currens' tapes which would then be shown in court in his presence. Since watching these at the police-station had driven him to acute breakdown, this was psychological torture.

He was threatened that the incident in which he had been deliberately compromized would be made public. The matter was unbearably painful - not because he had behaved perversely, but because he had given in and acted very much against his own nature in order to escape further pain. And he couldn't explain properly what had happened, and why it didn't mean he had deviant tendencies, without revealing information which was sensitive in relation to the case he intended to make against his abusers.

He was further told if he insisted Currens took the "mooning" shots Currens, his personal nightmare, would cross-examine him in court; and unless he pled guilty to all charges he wouldn't reach court for another year. Another year with the case hanging over him, forbidden to defend himself to the press; with his evidence ignored and his abusers free to brutalize more young boys.

Eric was admitted to hospital with a second, devastating breakdown, afterwards moving in with the McFarlans for almost a year. His court-appearance was delayed 5 months, during which he required watching 24-hours-a-day to prevent him killing himself.

While Eric was in hospital police held a press-briefing - on a sub judice case! - for which they were later severely criticized by the Lord Advocate, and which was so inaccurate the Fiscal warned some papers "Don't touch the police stuff - it's rubbish". Journalists were given an inflated, inaccurate version of the charges Eric faced, at times confusing Cullen with Currens. They were told Cullen and Currens "met in a Gents' lavatory", implying they were partners in perversion - omitting to mention Eric was 14 and had been taken there in school uniform for Currens to rape.

During the investigation some legal but questionable photo's of boys' fully-clothed behinds, which had different production-marks from any shots known to have been taken by Eric and which he insisted belonged to his abusers, had become mixed with pictures definitely belonging to Eric. Police sources later assured The Herald the boys in these suspect snaps had been traced and Eric knew none of them, and the Crown accepted that they were part of the material Eric's abusers had dumped on him. Despite this many reporters left the briefing thinking they'd been found among Eric's photo's - even taken by him - and several papers were given the impression that they were explicit images of genitalia.

Eric's lawyer felt presenting him as slightly warped by childhood abuse would be less embarrassing than telling the court he was still being raped and photographed naked as an adult (specifically "You don't want to be remembered as the wee boy who was buggered"), and thought a prison-sentence less likely if Eric pled guilty than if he contested the new charges and lost. Almost certainly he'd have won: but he dreaded prison. He feared beatings, rape - torments remembered with every nerve - even murder by prisoners convinced he was a paedophile; and years being shut into cubicles to be gang-raped had given him an hysterical fear of being locked in.

Too exhausted to argue, Eric pled guilty to all four charges. Many papers took it as read his guilt was genuine: and, as his abusers predicted, assumed he was gay. Yet the prosecution apparently produced no evidence Eric took the "mooning" shots, despite interviewing the two boys - reporting only that one couldn't remember the incident, and neither had any complaint against him. Eric worked with children as teacher and BB-leader; on a Children's Panel; in theatre-groups: not from perversion but because he felt safe with them and could talk to them face to face without getting a cricked neck. Police found no child with any complaint against him whatsoever.

In a press-statement Eric wrote: "While still being constantly molested and being forced to lie about my age so that other men would desire to rape me, two charges [taking the "mooning" shots, and exposing himself] took place. Through fear, terror and confusion, I allowed what the Crown call an indecent photograph of myself to be taken in the presence of another boy. I had been photographed naked constantly since I was 13 and this was part of the humiliation I had constantly suffered. I did not take two photographs of the said boy but I permitted the taking of those photographs. I had no other choice because of the terror and horror I was living under." It was reported that Currens - now undergoing psychotherapy in prison - had apologized for abusing Eric, and assured the Fiscal Eric had never been involved in paedophile activities except as victim.

The court accepted absolutely that the pornography found at Eric's house belonged to Currens who'd terrorized him into storing it (if indeed it belonged to the leader of the gang, the CPS evidently preferred to blame a man already in prison rather than admit there was another paedophile at large). For this Eric was fined 1,000.

But for two shots of boys "doing a moony" which, even had Eric taken them, were made when he was very young and were accepted by the court as "more vulgar than sexual", and one 15-second video-clip all concerned swore had no sexual content whatever, a mentally-ill, physically defenceless victim of rape and torture got 9 months in Barlinnie - though the prosecution neither requested nor expected a custodial sentence.

Stunned at being imprisoned for incidents which formed part of his abuse - jailed for being raped, effectively - Eric saw his whole life as "an endless series of punishments". He sincerely believed that if he stayed in prison he would die. Given the state of his heart he probably would have done.

The presiding sheriff, of course, didn't know that Eric was dying of heart-disease, but he certainly did know he was in the highest category of suicide-risk, and that by sending him to prison he was putting him in extreme danger. Effectively, therefore, he sentenced him to death - for having once "done a mooney" at college. Shortly afterwards a life-long sex-offender, described as "dangerous", was fined 200 by a Scottish judge for abducting and molesting boys aged 4 and 5.

Dorothy-Grace Elder, a campaigner against child-abuse later named Reporter of the Year for championing Eric, pointed out that victims are often compromized far worse than he'd been. Pillorying a survivor of horrific abuse for minor offences he was forced to commit could make other victims too frightened to come forward. Eric observed that his abusers were right when they said that if he told about the abuse he'd get into trouble.

In Barlinnie, gloatingly sensationalized tabloid-reports implying he owned his abusers' sadistic tapes endangered Eric's life and sanity: believing him a monster, fellow-prisoners howled foul insults and threats and took out a contract on him. He was stripped, photographed naked and then locked in a small space without his glasses - recapitulating nightmare memories. He spent his 30th birthday on a vomit-stained mattress in an empty, "suicide-proof" cell - surrounded by cards from well-wishers he'd never met - before being released on bail pending an appeal.

Unsurprizingly, considering the wildly inaccurate information given to them by the police, many reporters believed Eric a "child-sex pervert": one told him the only photograph he wanted was of him in his coffin, and he meant to get it. The Daily Record published quotes attributed to an unnamed senior policeman - one of those whom Eric would later sue for malpractice - which ranged from slanted to completely fictional. E.g. readers were told falsely that Eric was suspected of taking enormous numbers of photographs of genitalia (as opposed to having been cleared of owning some fully-clothed rear views), and that police had fully investigated Eric's claim he'd been abused and found no corroboration: according to the Lord Advocate no such investigation took place.

The conduit for this anonymous police contact was a reporter who became obsessed with Eric; whose relentless pursuit of Eric and his friends itself became the subject of a police investigation; and who was eventually sacked for "increasingly bizarre behaviour" which culminated in his arrest on a drugs charge.

At some point the paper had also been told police believed Eric had used his computer to link to a porn ring in Amsterdam on the Internet - the machine in question being an elderly Amstrad word-processor with no modem!

Psychiatrist Dr. Prem Misra, one of Britain's top experts on sex-offenders and their victims, treated Eric for 19 months and states that Eric showed no sign of any sexual deviancy whatsoever, and that he is absolutely certain he was a victim only, never an offender. He confirms Eric had been mentally shattered by being forced to watch the tapes of Currens abusing other boys, and pled guilty under the influence of depression and exhaustion.

Legally, however, having pled guilty Eric couldn't appeal against the conviction, only the sentence. During the lead-up to his appeal hysterical coverage by some papers bordered on conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Eric was utterly terrified - completely white even to his fingernails, believing that if he was sent back to prison he would be going to his death.

But Lord Ross - a famous martinet normally found increasing sentences - put Eric on probation, stressing that the offences were "very much at the lower end of the scale" and that Eric never physically touched the boys concerned, and none suffered harm of any kind.

Eric might have contested the conviction later - having been intimidated into pleading guilty when probably unfit to plead. But at that point he couldn't afford another lawsuit, being too emotionally shattered to work despite the opportunity of a good part.

The instant the appeal was over Eric and his friends approached the Lord Advocate, who ordered the police at last to investigate Eric's abusers. Eric was determined to convict them to save other children: though testifying triggered flashbacks so horrific that on one occasion he panicked, tried to block the memories with sleeping-pills and ended up throwing up in an ambulance. He was taken to the Victoria Infirmary Glasgow, which treated him "like a leper" and refused to allow him any visitors - to punish him for having a self-inflicted injury. Afterwards, typically, he worried far less about his own pain than about upsetting those who loved him.

Terrifying threats failed to silence him. Tabloid opinion that in campaigning against child-abuse he was an hypocritical pervert or a "professional victim" who should just shut up about it distressed him acutely, but the public remained broadly sympathetic; and he received significant support from e.g. the BBC, which produced a religious affairs programme highlighting his suffering and his courage. His mental health improved steadily: he still had bouts of beating his head against the wall, but was now sure he wanted to live. Naturally resilient, reasonably safe from violence and surrounded by loving friends, he dithered between returning to acting or studying Forensic Psychology to become a counsellor for other victims.

A month after his 31st birthday his internal adhesions obstructed his gut. He was rushed to hospital, vomiting blood. Following emergency surgery he was very sore, but seemed in no danger and was in good spirits. The nurses cheered him, saying they were honoured to welcome him to a different sort of theatre, and queued for his autograph; and the BBC had just invited him back as Wee Burney, though he was too fuzzy with morphine to take it in properly. 36 hours after the operation, waking early, he asked the nurse to fetch him a shaving kit so he could look respectable for his guests: when she returned he was dead of a massive heart-attack.

The post mortem found terrible heart-disease, inherited from his natural father; though the persecutions inflicted on a dying man can't have helped. One week before, he'd told The Big Issue "If I die tomorrow, I want to be remembered not for being a professional victim, but for standing up against my abusers".

His determination to confront them in court wasn't wasted. Because of his persistence and courage other witnesses came forward, and Jack Williams, Eric's uncle, has been jailed for serious offences against three boys in his care - but there remains a suspicion of cover-up. No mention was made of Williams' involvement in an organized paedophile ring, and additional witnesses who would have confirmed it - including Eric's taped evidence - were not used. There has still been no investigation of the man Eric named as foremost among his abusers.

Cartoon rear-view of Eric Cullen, with long-haired Chihuahuas

Eric Cullen suffered dreadful cruelty, but remained loving and gentle; was treated with contempt, yet was considerate and caring, warmly interested in others. Kind, clever, caustic and witty, sensible, original and brave and absolutely individual, he had the most wholly good character - and was the most fun - of anyone I ever met. When he died not one member of the cast of Rab C Nesbitt attended his funeral, or even sent flowers: but the local people packed a 600-seat church and overflowed it, lining the streets for 100 yards as if he was royalty.

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