Two sisters have spoken out after suffering years of sexual abuse at the hands of their grandfather.
Sophie and Toni Quirke waived their anonymity to speak about the ordeal which “destroyed their childhood” in the hope it will encourage other victims to do the same.
For years, when the girls stayed with their grandfather Paul Wallis, 66, he would sneak into their bed and put his hands in their underwear, grab their bottoms and force them to kiss him on the lips.
Wallis was jailed for seven years at Canterbury Crown Court on Friday
Sophie, now 22, and Toni, 20, 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.
"Our grandad was more of a dad to us than our own dad was”, Sophie said.
“His presence made me feel instantly safe and everything else melted away. He was my hero. Until, one day, that changed.”
The girls were aged 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.
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.”
The pair said it took years for them to understand that their grandad’s actions were sexual abuse.
As they grew older, his behaviour continued and they began feeling uncomfortable in his presence.
Sophie became depressed and grew into a troubled teenager – smoking, drinking, self-harming, and arguing with her mother daily.
Both girls struggled to reconcile the doting grandfather who showered them with 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, but in summer 2015, at the age of 16, Sophie approached her mother about the abuse, and Toni backed her up.
Their mum, 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.”
After Wallis was arrested in the spring of 2016, four other victims came forward with allegations of abuse he carried out between 1984 and 2016.
The sisters and four other victims attended court on Friday as Wallis was sentenced.
The 66-year-old sat passively in the dock as his victims broke down in tears.
Another victim 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.
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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.
The Quirke sisters said they hoped their experience would help raise awareness of abuse, and encourage other survivors to speak out.
“You may not think that these things happen in families or that it would ever happen in your family, but it does happen,” said Sophie. “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.”
The latest NSPCC statistics suggest that around 1 in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused, with girls and older children more likely to experience sexual abuse.
It says the vast majority of children who experience sexual abuse are abused by someone they know.
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