The nightmare is always the same for Bobbi Woodley. She is locked in the boot of her father’s car. It’s pitch black and she can’t breathe: the musty air smothers her lungs like smoke.
There is a quilt for warmth but she is bitterly cold. There’s no torch, no toys, no nothing and she is high on drugs. She needs the bathroom but has no idea when he’ll come to offer relief and the hours stretch ahead like a prison sentence. She is 12 years old.
This recurring nightmare is sometimes so powerful it leaves Bobbi drenched in sweat and she has to sleep on towels – and no wonder. It was once a terrifying reality.
Today Bobbi is waiving her anonymity to tell a story that is as heartbreaking as it is incredible. The hard facts are these: from the age of four, her father conducted a campaign of rape and abuse under the noses of the authorities. At one point he abducted and imprisoned her, forcing his daughter to act like his wife and confining her to the car boot for a horrific five-week period.
Chance after chance to stop him was missed by social workers, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). And it was only thanks to a TV appeal and Bobbi’s own brave detective work that 77-year-old Colin Goss was finally brought to justice.
A few weeks ago he was jailed for 16 years after pleading guilty to seven charges including three of rape. So disturbing was the case, the judge who heard it at Plymouth Crown Court later upped the sentence to 18 years.
Today, Bobbi’s anger at the authorities is palpable. On three separate occasions the police investigated but there was no prosecution. The care system allowed Goss access to Bobbi despite his arrests. On one occasion he even took her social workers for dinner. Yet when we meet there is no sign of the horror she has survived.
Far from it. The 34-year-old is calm and even humorous, seemingly a normal mum who works at a courier company. At home she bakes cookies for her seven-year-old daughter.
She says she has learned to wear many masks and adopt different personalities to suit every situation. Nothing betrays what she has been through until, piece by moving piece, she starts to explain her quite extraordinary story for the first time.
‘Not a day goes by when I don’t think about what Dad put me through,’ she says. ‘It haunts me. He has ruined my life and my soul. I couldn’t let him get away with what he did to me. My dad has had his life; I have lost the bigger part of mine. He got 18 years but I’m the one with the life sentence. And I will never be free.’
Even the sentence has left her in turmoil. ‘I do still care and feel horrifically guilty that I’ve sent him to prison. He’s the only family member who was there constantly while I was growing up. I’m grateful for the dad-stuff he did do. But at the same time I hate him and hope he never comes out of prison alive.
‘I can’t bear hearing his West Country accent, to see the same curly handwriting or anyone who looks like him. I’ve been jumping in bushes for years when I’ve seen his car. I’ve pushed my daughter down many an alley. I’ve never let him set one eye on her.’
The ordeal started when Bobbi was barely old enough to go to school. She hardly knew Goss, a car salesman, as he and her mother had split up two years previously. Her mother had been just 18 when Bobbi was born while Goss had been well into his 30s.
Then, fatefully, Bobbi went on a two-week holiday with him and relatives to a farm in Devon.
‘He seemed lovely,’ she recalls, ‘but old. A few nights into the holiday he made me rub cream into his private parts. He said if I didn’t do it, he would get poorly and have to go into hospital. I didn’t realise what was happening, I was just helping Dad.’
Back at her mother’s, Bobbi revealed what had happened. The police were called and Goss was arrested. He answered ‘no comment’ to all questions and the police took no further action. For Bobbi, however, the episode was not just significant – it turned her into a different child.
‘I went from an innocent little girl to a spoilt, gobby madam who went off the rails,’ Bobbi says.
Apparently beyond the reach of the law, her father persisted
‘Dad started to bring lavish gifts to the house. He built a sweet shop in my bedroom with jars full. I loved roller skating so a pair of £250 skates with special wheels turned up. As I got older it was money. He’s more or less paid for everything I’ve had in my life. It wasn’t until I was 14 or 15 that I understood I had to pay for it, too.’
Bobbi’s mother was finding life very difficult to cope with, and Bobbi spent the next few years in and out of care.
‘Mum left me and I don’t blame her,’ Bobbi says. ‘She couldn’t handle it. It must have been the hardest thing in the world for her.’ Disastrously, Bobbi was then sent to live with her father in Devon when she was seven or eight.
‘From the first night, he had me naked in his bed,’ she says. ‘I remember lying there thinking it wasn’t right.’ Over the next few months it escalated. On one shopping trip, he bought the little girl a black lacy underwear set with suspenders.
‘When we got home he said, “You’ve had a good day haven’t you? Are you going to show me what I’ve bought you?” I couldn’t put the suspenders on, but he corrected that for me. I had a walk around for him feeling uncomfortable. He just looked at me. I was tall and quite womanly for my age.’
Bobbi did what she was told – and no wonder. Her father would often get drunk and subject her to vicious beatings. When, after a year, Goss was sent to prison for fraud, Bobbi plucked up the courage to disclose to a teacher what he had done to her. For a second time, people in authority had been informed – and for a second time she was let down.
Within days she was in a care home in Corby, supposedly with the protection of an order demanding that all visits from her father be supervised.
But Goss had somehow escaped abuse charges once again, and when he was freed from jail, he found fresh ways to reach her.
‘He bought people lavish gifts in order to arrange an inappropriate visit with me. They’d rather have a fridge freezer I suppose. He’d send big fruit baskets to the children’s home and he’d take me and the social workers for dinner. Everyone thought he was wonderful, but he was a fraudster. I felt totally alone but he was the only relative I had and I clung on to that. I depended on him.’
When she was 11 and still in care, the abuse turned into a full-scale, breathtaking, abduction. Goss pulled up out of the blue in his car while she was on her way to school. ‘He said, “You’re coming to live with me and your brothers in Devon.” I thought about the abuse but then I was a big-headed girl who would be able to deal with it. He said he’d changed, too. I thought I was off to be normal.’
After taking her from Corby, Goss went to extremes to hide Bobbi from view, including forcing her to stay quiet in the boot of his Peugeot 405 while he was at work.
‘Dad would drive to the garage for his work with me in the boot and park on the forecourt. I’d hear people wandering around looking at cars and my brothers, who also worked there, laughing and joking. It was dark, it smelled musty and there was no fresh air. I have a massive fear of small spaces now. The worst was when I needed the bathroom. Only when no one was around did he let me out to go to the loo.’
When Bobbi was 12 he started to ply her with a substance police later confirmed was ecstasy, giving her one to two tablets a day. ‘He’d open the boot, give me a pill and some juice. I don’t know why it was ecstasy. To shut me up? It worked. I was out of my face most days. If I wasn’t, I was on a come-down from the drug and rough with the shakes. I cried, of course I did. I had learnt to cry silently from the age of eight. I never screamed, the tears would just fall. He told me it was all going to change. The promise of a proper family life was dangled in front of me like a carrot.’
About five weeks later, Goss rented a cottage near Saltash, Cornwall, and let Bobbi spend her days there with the curtains drawn.
‘I took on the role of wife,’ she says. ‘I was at home rather than at school, I cooked and cleaned and even trimmed Dad’s ear hair. He would come home, we’d eat, watch telly and go to his bed.’ Goss kept her there for at least a year, during which time the abuse turned to rape.
‘That was it then. The final piece of Dad’s puzzle,’ she continues. Goss raped her more than ten times before police swooped on the cottage. A neighbour had recognised Bobbi after having seen a picture of her on the 1990s ITV show, Schofield’s Quest, in which presenter Phillip Schofield investigated mysteries – in Bobbi’s case, missing people. She was taken back to Corby and the care home by plane in case Goss tried to intercept her on the motorway.
Goss was then arrested again. Unbelievably, the CPS decided not to prosecute him on sex abuse charges. He did plead guilty to two counts of child abduction at Corby Magistrates’ Court and received a paltry 24-month conditional discharge.
Bobbi hit the drugs and drink hard when she was 15 and slept around but never disclosed her abuse to friends.
‘My dad used to sleep with me – it’s not something you share is it?’
It was only last year amid the breakdown of her eight-year marriage that Bobbi plucked up the courage to trap her father herself. It was clear no one else was going to help.
Goss had continued to harass her throughout her marriage and rang her every day. ‘If I didn’t answer, he would phone until I did. He once called 80 times in a week.’
She had not seen him in person for six years when she arranged to meet at his home in Plymouth armed with a dictaphone. ‘I tearily poured my heart out. He said he wanted to live the rest of his life in peace. He asked if I could get help without going to the police.’
Bobbi handed the tape to police, Goss was arrested and finally there was the prosecution that should have taken place three decades earlier.
Her extraordinary strength was acknowledged by Judge Paul Darlow. Speaking during the case, he said it ‘seemed incredible now’ that Bobbi’s previous complaints had come to nothing.
‘The CPS said they’d never had a victim build the case for them, but who else was going to do it?’ says Bobbi. ‘No one did their job. I was on the emergency register and a ward of the court until I was 18. I don’t understand how Dad got to see me, how we went out to dinner with social workers.’
A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said they could not say why Goss wasn’t charged previously but insisted the approach to sex abuse cases had been ‘completely overhauled’ since.
This is of little comfort to Bobbi. She has tried to commit suicide at least three times and finds it impossible to be in confined spaces. Often her anxiety is so acute she cannot leave the house. But she says she is speaking now partly through the relief of being believed but also to encourage others to come forward.
‘I hope my story will help to bring people out. It sounds selfish but in a way I would feel a bit better knowing it wasn’t just me. I am not ashamed of what’s happened. In fact, I’m proud to have come through it.’
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