When Geoff Long held his newborn daughter Tina in his arms for the very first time, he was overwhelmed by the rush of paternal love he felt.
Despite going through an acrimonious divorce in the 1970s from his first wife Sue, Geoff remained a thoughtful and generous parent to their children – Tina and her brothers Steve and David.
Then, five years ago, this loving father’s world came crashing down when he found himself standing in the dock at a Crown Court listening to shocking accusations of sexual abuse. And, to his utter disbelief, they were being made by Tina, the daughter he had doted on.
The evidence seemed so flimsy as to be practically non-existent, yet in 2010 Geoff was convicted and jailed for five years for sexually abusing Tina from the age of 8 until she was 16. Only this year was he finally exonerated.
It was only when Tina finally confessed in court in January that she had lied that the injustice of his conviction was revealed. While he had been locked up in jail he became haunted by thoughts that he might lose his new wife Louise and son James, and came close to suicide.
Talking about his ordeal for the first time, and with his voice cracking with emotion, Geoff, 67, says: ‘I cannot describe how it felt to stand and listen to my only daughter accuse me of paedophilia.
‘I had been advised by my legal team to try to remain impassive when Tina was giving evidence. But inside I wanted to scream the roof off. This was my own flesh and blood.’
It is a story that has its roots in the misery of family breakdown and, he believes, the jealousy he faced when he began to build a successful new life of his own.
His treatment is also an indictment of a justice system that even today seems clueless in the face of such allegations, whether true or otherwise. In the view of Geoff’s solicitor, it was ‘blindingly obvious’ that the claims against him were false. Yet even after his conviction was quashed on Appeal, an innocent man was then subjected to two further retrials – ordered ‘in the public interest’ by the CPS – before the case was thrown out when Tina finally admitted in court that she had lied under cross-examination.
Geoff’s ordeal has its origins in his first marriage, when he was working as a painter and decorator. Geoff and wife Sue were both young – he was 17 and she was just 16 when they married. Their union ended in divorce, as did Geoff’s second marriage, which produced two sons.
Throughout all of this, however, his business expanded. He says: ‘I think it angered Sue, who felt the children from my second marriage, and indeed my second wife, lived a very different lifestyle from her own. She felt the children she had with me were losing out financially to my new family.’
By the time Geoff and his third wife Louise married and had their son James, now ten, Geoff’s contact with Sue and Tina had been reduced to drunken, accusatory late-night phone calls in which mother and daughter screeched abuse about imagined slights and long-forgotten disputes.
‘They saw me as an endless pot of money. They ranted that all my newly acquired wealth was going to my subsequent children,’ he says.
Louise, now 49, ran a successful child-minding business, and when premises that she saw ideal as a nursery came up for sale near their Eastbourne home, they snapped it up. It opened in 2009. Almost at once came a renewed round of calls from Sue insisting that her grandchildren be enrolled at the nursery. Geoff and Louise refused because of the children’s father’s previous behaviour. But the decision pitched them into a nightmare.
Tina went to Brighton police’s historic sexual abuse inquiry team and told them that 30 years before, when she was just eight, she had been abused by her father. The immediate result was an early morning visit to Geoff from officers. ‘I had no idea what was happening,’ he says. ‘I’ve never dealt with police in my life. They took me to the local station and told me two officers from Brighton’s historic sex abuse team wanted to talk to me.
‘I was horrified when I heard Tina’s allegations: that I abused her regularly on Saturday nights when her mother was at bingo; that after the abuse I would wash myself in a pink sink in her bedroom.
‘I kept telling them this was just a revenge allegation she had made up. But they insisted she wouldn’t have accused me if it hadn’t happened. Now I realise that many things I said in that initial interview were twisted during my trial. I told them I had an affair during those years and that I always saw her on a Saturday night. I had no idea that would be used to portray me as an adulterer and a liar.’
After his arrest in 2010, Geoff was convinced by his lawyers that nothing would come of such wild allegations and he and Louise tried to put the matter behind them. But with such emotive allegations, rumours swiftly circulated. Social workers began monitoring the family closely because they had a young son.
Then Geoff was charged and to everyone’s astonishment was found guilty that same year and given a five-year sentence – merely on Tina’s evidence. ‘We were all in shock,’ he says. ‘The jury was told all about my affairs, my lies. But there wasn’t a shred of evidence of sexual abuse against me.
‘Ultimately, I was convicted for being an untrustworthy husband. At one stage the prosecution barrister even pointed out that since my second wife had been eight years younger than me, and that Louise is 18 years younger, I clearly had an interest in young girls.’
That first night in Lewes prison was horrific, he recalls. ‘I lay there asking why, why, why? I’d had a stent fitted in my thigh after a heart attack and I actually tried taking the plug out. Just bleeding to death.’
After two months he was moved to Maidstone prison. One day, sobbing uncontrollably, he told an inmate what he had been convicted of. ‘Tell no one,’ the prisoner told him. ‘You are a dead man in here if you do.’
Tina, by contrast, was determined to win publicity. Although the court had ruled she would remain anonymous because of her age at the time of the alleged offence, she opted to write a salacious magazine article telling in intimate detail the false tale of her supposed abuse.
In the article she wrote how Geoff called her his ‘special little girl’ while assaulting her and warned her she would ‘split up the family’ if she ever told ‘our secret’. In the meantime, Geoff’s spirits plummeted.
Geoff Long (extracted from the Mail on Sunday 1/11/15)
Geoff and his wife Louise
During prison visits he regularly told Louise to divorce him and start afresh. Son James, just four at the time, cried every time he saw his father, begging him to come home.
Louise, however, was determined that such a blatant miscarriage of justice should be challenged. She paid for 3,600 pages of witness reports - not introduced into court - to be transcribed and uncovered some damning evidence.
The police officer who had carried out the initial investigation had typed up notes explaining there was no pink sink in Tina’s childhood room. He even had floorboards ripped up to ensure there had never been plumbing to the room. But this wasn’t provided to the defence.
The bingo hall that Tina’s mother said she was at when Geoff was supposedly abusing their daughter had closed decades before the alleged assaults. Louise even traced Geoff’s then-mistress, who confirmed she was with him every Saturday night. She also found that witnesses had illegally taped the original trial to ensure their stories tallied when they were in the witness box.
In a drunken moment Tina confessed to her brother Steve that she had made up all the accusations. But when Steve went to police he was charged with perverting the course of justice.
However, on January 28 this year in a second retrial, after further investigations, the CPS dropped charges against Geoff and Steve after Tina admitted lying under cross-examination. It was a heady moment for Geoff. ‘At first I was dumbstruck. After what I had been through, it was difficult to grasp that I was finally free, that at last I had been believed.’
So after a tortuous process which began with the original trial in 2010, an appeal in 2012, and retrials in 2014 and 2015, the ordeal was over. And all along, as Geoff’s solicitor Mark Newby says, ‘all the evidence’ indicated that the allegations were false.
He says: ‘That the Crown stuck doggedly to a case – there was not one but two attempts at a retrial – is not only a scandalous waste of money but, even more alarming, reveals a credulous approach to self-evidently flawed evidence,’ he says. ‘What was the prosecution thinking?’
It is a question Geoff has asked many times. And he is only too well aware of just how far-reaching the effect on his reputation and standing has been. ‘Yes, I have been wholly exonerated and justice has been done,’ he says. ‘But I live with the knowledge that some people will inevitably take the view that there is no smoke without fire. It tortures me that the stigma remains.’
Geoff and Louise believe their legal bills amount to £100,000. But while the CPS admits the ‘live evidence in the retrial was inconsistent with that in the original trial and the prosecution case was therefore fatally undermined’, and Sussex Police say that ‘during the retrial in January this year the CPS decided not to offer any further evidence’, Geoff still feels the weight of his unjust conviction especially as the system does now not allow compensation.
Tina, meanwhile, is yet to be prosecuted despite apparently perverting the course of justice – not that Geoff is keen for that to happen.
‘I’ve saved my anger for the Crown Prosecution Service. What happened to me was an utter miscarriage of justice. Why this ever came to trial is beyond me. Someone, somewhere, owes me a lot of explanations.
‘As for Tina, I can’t ever see us being able to speak again. I’m not seeking revenge and I don’t want to see someone else go to prison.
‘But I need to close the door on what happened. Tina has her own conscience to deal with. And that must be torture in itself.’