As a teenager in the 1980s, Maureen Jenkins’s son Russel was sexually abused by a police officer. The officer’s colleagues refused to arrest him, despite complaints from other children. Here, Maureen talks for the first time about her family’s 25-year battle to bring her son’s abuser to justice
At the age of 46, Maureen Jenkins, an ordinary wife and mother from Devon, decided to leave her unhappy marriage and sail 3,000 miles across the Atlantic single-handed, defying the disbelief of alarmed friends and relatives – she was only a novice sailor. Mo Jenkins subsequently wrote a book about her epic voyage in the 1990s and is now a popular inspirational speaker. But she has never been able to reveal the real reason behind her drive, until now.
The sad secret that Mo had kept private for so many years was that her son Russel Dawson had been sexually abused as a young teenager. As if that weren’t painful enough, the man who abused him was a serving police officer, a man admired and respected in her home town of Barnstaple. His colleagues refused to arrest him, and made her beloved son feel so worthless that he suffered a total breakdown in his late teens.
Last November, more than a quarter of a century later, former policeman Danny Bryant, 65, was finally jailed. He admitted sexually abusing Mo’s son and four other children, and was jailed for six and a half years.
It was only as a result of repeated efforts by Russel that police reopened investigations into Bryant and traced his other victims. After the trial, Russel, now 45, bravely waived his anonymity in order to campaign for an inquiry into why it took police so long to arrest their former colleague. It was at this point that I met Russel – and in the course of our interview he told me I should meet his mum: ‘I couldn’t have put Bryant behind bars without her; she healed us both. She’s such a strong, independent woman.’ Then, to my astonishment, he casually added that she was a trans-Atlantic solo sailor.I visited Mo, now 68, on the cosy yacht where she lives with her second husband, Paul Fay, on the east coast of England. Tiny at just 5ft 1in, warm and motherly as she rustles up home-made soup, she has an endearing humility about her achievements. She laughs off the hardships of her voyage. ‘It liberated me. Sailing across an ocean was easy compared to my life before.