Witness to historic Northampton abuse speaks out about how statue in Abington Street became a 'hunting ground for adults to prey on teenagers'

“Everyone there was vulnerable in their own sort of way. Whether it was mental health issues, or a bad home lives or bad school lives"

By Carly Roberts & Alastair Ulke
Wednesday, 8th July 2020, 12:33 pm
An investigation has been launched over historic sex abuse linked to the site of a statue in Northampton town centre.

A woman has spoken out about the culture of abuse her and others witnessed as teenagers by predatory adults in Northampton.

Last week, Northamptonshire Police launched an investigation into allegations about historic abuse of potentially hundreds of teenagers linked to a hang-out around a statue in Abington Street.

It comes after a post on social media last week led to countless people speaking up about how they were groomed and preyed on as teenagers.

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Now, one woman has told the Chronicle & Echo how she witnessed first-hand how a culture of grooming grew around the town centre hangout that led to adults exploiting, abusing and threatening children.

The woman - who has asked for anonymity - came across a group of people years ago who would meet up throughout the week at the Cobblers statue in the town’s main shopping street.

It was described as a place where “outcasts” would come together and meet up after school either with their friends but often with people they didn’t know. And many of them would be adults in their 20s.

She said: “That’s where everyone would be. There would be someone there at any point of the day.

“I think it had a bit of a bad vibe for the people who didn't go there. There were children who were smoking and a group of people right directly in the middle of the street.

“It was for people who were different. We were people who were brought together because we were outcasts. We didn't really fit together in other groups."

But even back then, she knew there was something wrong that she "couldn't put her finger on".

Only now, years later, she reflects on how many things were wrong about it all. Like how adults were plying teenagers with alcohol, and how 20-year-olds were sharing legal highs with 14-year-olds.

"'You're very mature for someone your age'. As a teenager, it's incredible to hear that. But for a 20-year-old to say that is manipulative.

"When you're there with a child's mindset you don't see any trouble. It's not until you become an adult do you realise you would never be a 20-year-old hanging out with 14-year-olds."

She also describes the 'camp-outs' - when the group would take trips out to fields, build a campfire and drink.

She said: "We were kids who were smoking and drinking, and the adults would supply it for us.

"It's not like we weren't asking them to bring alcohol - but it's up to them to say no.

"There were lots of people at those events - a mix of girls as young as 13 and adults who were 19 or 20 or older.

"A lot of the incidents would happen there.

“I would see people start relationships with others a lot older than themselves. At the time I didn't think a lot of it.

"At the time I was glad to be part of a group. I wasn't there for a very long time. I left after about two years. I couldn't put my finger on it but it wasn't where I wanted to be."

For the woman, what she witnessed to in those few years were never properly addressed or seen for what they were.

It's only after reflecting on what happened with a friend did she come to realise the severity of what happened in her youth.

“We would always make jokes about it - like it was a coping mechanism. But then we talked about it and thought about what it meant. And we realised what happened was really wrong."

Then, in late June, a post on social media was set up. It was a place for young people to speak up about their experiences growing up in Northampton - to talk about "what was really going on" with the statue in Abington Street.

The post exploded. Hundreds and hundreds of people across Northampton have shared how they have lived for years knowing they were also exploited as a teenager.

The post is now made up of hundreds of harrowing accounts, and has outlined a culture of exploitation, alleged sex offences and predatory manipulation. Victims have shared screenshots of the manipulative and threatening messages they received.

It led to Northamptonshire Police launching an investigation into the abuse centred around the Abington Street statue.

Since last Monday (June 29), dozens of calls have been made to a dedicated incident number set up for detectives to talk to suspected victims.

The woman told the Chron: “The adults involved in this may have changed, and good for them - but they still did bad things to children.

“That trauma stays with them. These young girls have carried it with them into their adult lives while these adults get to carry on with their lives and have children and their families don't know what they did."

Now, they are bravely speaking out about what happened, and comforting not just each other but countless others who have reached out to them to share their trauma.

The Abington Street Cobblers Statue stopped being a hangout years ago.

But it's possible no-one realised the full extent of what was happening around the Northampton statue and the teenagers who wanted to make friends there.

“In a way everyone there was vulnerable in their own sort of way," the woman told the Chron. "Whether it was mental health issues or a bad home life or a bad school life.

"And I'm sure this is still happening to so many people. People need to know - if you are a child, a 20-year-old is not your friend.

“We were taught stranger danger at school but we're not taught about the people you know - the people we've formed relationships with."

Now, the Northampton woman is encouraging anyone who is struggling with experiences of sexual exploitation to share what happened to them with the police.

Anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse is encouraged to contact police on 101, and if it relates to this case, please quote incident number 542 of 27/06/20