Two sisters have spoken out after suffering years of sexual abuse at the hands of their grandfather.
Sophie, now 22, and Toni Quirke, 20, waived their anonymity to talk about the ordeal which ‘destroyed their childhood’ in the hope it will encourage other victims to do the same.
Paul Wallis, 66, was sentenced to seven years in jail at Canterbury Crown Court on Friday.
For years, when the girls stayed with their grandfather, he would sneak into their bed and put his hands down their pants, grab their bottoms and force them to kiss him on the lips.
Sophie (top right), 22, and Toni Quirke (bottom right), 20, have spoken out after suffering years of sexual abuse at the hands of their grandfather, Paul Wallis, 66 (pictured left)
Sophie (right) and Toni (left) waived their anonymity to talk about the ordeal which ‘destroyed their childhood’ in the hope it will encourage other victims to do the same
Sophie and Toni recalled childhood weekends spent baking, playing games and doing puzzles at their father’s parents’ home in Sturry, Kent.
Toni said: ‘They’d take us shopping, spoil us…grandparenty things.’
Sophie said: ‘Our grandad was more of a dad to us than our own dad was.
‘His presence made me feel instantly safe and everything else melted away. He was my hero. Until, one day, that changed.’
The girls were around eight and six when Wallis first touched them inappropriately.
Sleeping over at their grandparents’ house, they woke to find someone in bed between them.
Wallis, 66, was sentenced to seven years in jail at Canterbury Crown Court on Friday
Sophie said: ‘It clicked that it was my grandad. I could smell what I now know is alcohol on someone’s breath.
‘He was tickling my back and I tried to fall back to sleep. He then put his hand into my knickers and started trying to touch me.
‘I said ‘no’ and moved away, and he took his hand away.
‘I rolled over and said ‘I think you should go get in bed with nan now grandad’, and he got up and he left.
‘Me and Toni looked at each other, and I said ‘did grandad just put his hands on you too?’ She said ‘yes’, and it was kind of like ‘oh, OK’ and we rolled over and went to sleep.’
It would take years for the young girls to understand that their grandad’s actions were sexual abuse.
But as they grew older, his behaviour continued and they began feeling uncomfortable in his presence.
It would take years for the young girls to understand that their grandad’s actions were sexual abuse
Sophie became depressed and grew into a troubled teenager – smoking, drinking, self-harming and arguing with her mother daily.
At the age of 14, she moved in with her father, Wallis’s son, and later her grandparents, where she began feeling ‘constantly on edge’.
When her grandad drank, he would become particularly ‘handsy’ and ‘would grab and smack my bum’, Sophie said.
She added: ‘I lost count of the number of nights that I hid under the covers in my bed pretending I was asleep, just so I wouldn’t have to smell his alcohol breath on my face as he forced me to give him a ‘real kiss’.
‘I learned to shower in five minutes, so I didn’t have to have my clothes off for too long.’
Toni, who visited at weekends, recalls pretending to be unwell so she could go home early.
She said: ‘This fear of being with my grandad when he drank evolved and I started to see all men as a threat to me, especially if they had been drinking.
‘I was very wary around men – I still am.’
Both girls struggled to reconcile the doting grandfather who showered them in treats with the man who violated them.
Sophie said: ‘He was this amazing man – our safe space – but then at the same time he was our abuser.’
For many years the sisters kept quiet about their grandad, fearing what would happen to their tight-knit family if they spoke out.
But in summer 2015, at the age of 16, Sophie found the courage to approach her mother about his abuse and Toni followed in her footsteps.
Their mother, Canterbury city councillor Louise Harvey-Quirke, described it as a ‘bombshell’ moment.
She said: ‘I absolutely worshipped Paul. I saw him as my dad. He was so genuine, so caring.
‘But as soon as the girls made their allegation, it put everything into question, all his motives.’
But in summer 2015, at the age of 16, Sophie (above) found the courage to approach her mother about his abuse and Toni followed in her footsteps
After Wallis was arrested in the spring of 2016, four other victims bravely came forward with allegations of abuse he carried out between 1984 and 2016.
Overwhelmed by what happened, Sophie’s mental health has deteriorated and she has made several suicide attempts.
She said: ‘For years, I never slept soundly because I would have nightmares and would wake up screaming. I hardly ate.
‘I became a recluse and couldn’t hold down a job. The only time I left the house was to go drinking.’
Sophie is now expecting her first child and says becoming pregnant has helped save her from those dark places.
But she still struggles to maintain relationships and battles severe anxiety.
Toni too remains deeply scared by her grandad’s abuse.
She said: ‘I feel like I have lost the confidence I had before all of this began.
‘I struggle to talk about anything intimate and I don’t feel that I show love.
‘I know that I am very emotionally closed off and distant, and this is something that hurts my mother.’
She is hoping to pursue a career as a dancer but finds it difficult to wear leotards around men or to be touched.
‘I feel that my grandad’s actions are preventing me from doing what I love,’ she said.
The sisters and four other victims appeared at court on Friday as Wallis was sentenced.
The 66-year-old sat passively in the dock as his victims broke down in tears.
The court heard how he insisted children in his care kissed him on the lips and he attacked some as they slept.
Both girls struggled to reconcile the doting grandfather who showered them in treats with the man who violated them
Prosecutor Peter Forbes said Wallis would offend when drunk and ‘when the opportunity presented itself’.
One of the victims told how she self-harmed following the attacks.
She said: ‘My life has been changed by this predator Paul Wallis. I feel revulsion and shudder at the memories.’
Other victims told of suffering flashbacks, deteriorating mental health and strained adult relationships.
Jailing Wallis for seven years in front of a packed public gallery, Judge Catherine Brown labelled his actions ‘lecherous’ and his attitude ‘limited in insight and remorse.’
‘You were selfish and paid no regard that you were assaulting your victims, some of them were asleep and vulnerable, and many were vulnerable in other ways.’
Wallis pleaded guilty before trial to three counts of indecent assault, sexually assaulting a child under 13 and four counts of sexual activity with a child.
A further six sexual offence charges will lie on file.
Wallis pleaded guilty before trial to three counts of indecent assault, sexually assaulting a child under 13 and four counts of sexual activity with a child
Toni and Sophie, who expressed heartfelt thanks to the police for their work on the case, say they are happy with the sentence Wallis received.
Sophie said: ‘Hopefully, we’ll now be able to move on and have the closure we’ve been so desperate for.’
Toni said: ‘This case has consumed my entire life. Over the last six years I have watched it destroy my sister and tear my mother apart.
‘I am so proud of all of the victims. I am happy that we all got to say what we needed to when it mattered the most.’
Their mother added: ‘I am incredibly proud of my girls. They have been strong, brave, and undeterred throughout.
‘I hope all of the victims can now find peace and begin to sleep a little easier.’
Sophie and Toni hope their experience will help raise awareness of abuse and encourage other survivors to speak out.
Sophie said: ‘You may not think that these things happen in families or that it would ever happen in your family, but it does happen.
‘We know how hard it is to speak up, but once you’ve done it you’re going to be OK.
‘There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, even if you don’t feel like there is.
‘You’re not alone.’
If you’re worried about a child, contact the NSPCC’s professional counsellors for help, advice and support on 0808 8005000 or email [email protected].
For confidential support on an emotional issue, call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time or visit their website.