I survived Fred and Rose West

`If I had gone through with a rape charge back in 1972, the other girls would still be alive'
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The Independent Culture
Caroline Roberts was 17 when she hitched a ride with Fred and Rose West and subsequently took a job as their nanny. Weeks after she quit the Wests picked her up again and took her back to Cromwell Street where she was subjected to horrific sexual abuse. Caroline escaped but the matter was not investigated. The Wests later killed 10 women. Caroline was one of the main witnesses at Rose West's trial in 1995. Now 42, she still lives in Gloucester.

NOT A DAY goes by when I don't think about the girls who didn't make it. Just three months after I escaped, the Wests killed their first victim - their baby-sitter, Lynda Gough. If I had gone through with a rape charge against Fred West back in 1972, Lynda and the other girls would still be alive. When they started finding the bodies I felt terrible. I just kept thinking, why didn't I say something? From the moment I hitched a lift I thought they were an odd couple. Fred was confident but Rose was dim and had an irritating, whiny voice. She was younger, and very pretty. Fred was what some might call ruggedly handsome and could be very charming.

In retrospect there were so many perturbing aspects to life at 25 Cromwell Road. Fred and Rose constantly quizzed me about my sex life, which I found very embarrassing. They would encourage my boyfriend to stay, suggesting we use their bed, and Fred would reassure me that if I ever "got into trouble" he could "sort me out" as he knew how to carry out abortions. He was obsessed with women's sexual enjoyment and "improving it". Rose would sidle up to me on the sofa and fiddle with my hair.

The younger children were delightful, but I found Anne Marie, the oldest daughter, odd. She would alternate between being hyperactive and withdrawn. It did go through my mind that he had abused her.

It sounds bizarre, but being raped by Fred West was not as devastating as being abused by Rose. The rape took a few seconds, and I knew what to expect. But I found my experience with Rose totally repulsive. She gave me oral sex - which I had never participated in - and it made me feel utterly degraded. I went off women completely as a result. I became very nervy around female friends. With men I became jealous and obsessive, and I didn't have oral sex again until after the trial in 1995.

Fred's final threat before I escaped was that he would "bury me under the paving stones of Gloucester" with the "hundreds of girls" who were already there. This image tormented me for years, and I still have a recurring dream. I can hear my mother on the ground above crying, handing out pictures of me. I'm shouting to tell her I'm under the stones, but she can't hear me.

Because Fred was constantly bragging, I thought his threat had no substance. When, 23 years later, I heard on the news that a man had been held on suspicion of burying his murdered daughter under paving stones, I went cold. I knew it was him immediately. I heard later that Fred had talked of me as a "dummy run" to test Rose's killing ability.

I did report the attack to the police - and the Wests were charged with indecent assault - but I didn't push a rape charge. There were a number of reasons for this. I'd had an affair with one of the lodgers at the houses, and another had tried to sleep with me. The Wests had told the police about this and I was terrified of people finding out. And my stepfather, with whom I had a difficult relationship at the time, didn't want me to go to court as he was worried about neighbours gossiping.

After it came out, I felt terribly emotional and guilty. I thought I'd been selfish because my first thought was to protect myself, even though the Wests' behaviour had been suspicious - I didn't want people to probe into my life. If I had really persisted, the police would at least have been watching Fred. And, on the flip side, if I hadn't said anything at all, would the women still have been alive? Because I caused a fuss Fred and Rose no longer trusted the women they abused, and so eradicated their fears by killing them. I'll never get over these feelings totally, but I have had a lot of counselling and now know that I can't hold myself responsible for the murders. My belief in an afterlife also helps me come to terms with their deaths. People are astounded at how I cope with life. It has made me feel invincible.

Understandably, I'm very protective of my children. I remember my daughter being frustrated that I wouldn't let her go camping with friends. She only realised why when the bodies were found and my involvement unravelled.

I feel that I went through this for a reason: I am now here to help people who have lost those they love. When my children have grown up, I want to train as a rape counsellor and write a book about my experiences. My friends worry that if I talk too much about what happened people will think I'm insane, but I think it's important to talk about it if it helps people who have been through similar experiences.

The girls who didn't get away are always going to haunt me. After the trial I had terrible nightmares. I used to visualise another of the Wests' victims, the student Lucy Partington, tied up, pleading with me to help her. I have developed a relationship with Lynda Gough's parents - they wrote to me after the trial because they knew how devastated I was about Lynda's death. Their first letter was incredibly moving. They said they didn't blame me, and that as long as we went on feeling guilty we would continue to be the Wests' victims. We write regularly but don't meet in person. I think the emotion would be too overwhelming.

I often think about writing to Rose. She says she has found God, but if she really had she would confess. It isn't my place to forgive her for killing others, but I could forgive her for what she did to me. She says she can't remember it, which makes me very angry. But I think that abusing and killing women became so much part of her life that she simply couldn't tell us apart.

This article is a shorter version of one appearing in `She' magazine, on sale from 10 September

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