Abused sisters win damages from father: Man who raped and beat three daughters for years ordered to pay them pounds 39,700 in historic judgment

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The Independent Online
THREE sisters who suffered years of serious sexual abuse and brutality from their father yesterday made legal history by successfully suing him for damages in the High Court.

Endre Keleman was ordered to pay his daughters a total of pounds 39,700 for the pain, suffering and mental anguish of their ruined childhood which, many years on, still haunts them. Psychiatrists say they will need counselling for some time.

The three sisters, Helen Periera, now aged 28, Maria Lawrence, 25, and Eva Keleman, 24, had alleged physical and indecent assault, aggravated in some cases by buggery and full sexual intercourse from when they were aged about seven to 16. It is the first time children have successfully sued for injuries caused by sexual assault by a parent, and is expected to pave the way for other children follow suit. Previously, victims have received awards from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board after criminal prosecutions.

But in this case, although Mr Keleman had been convicted and sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment at the Old Bailey for his sustained attacks on his daughters, he was freed by the Court of Appeal after two years, because of inadequacies in the trial judge's summing-up to the jury.

Yesterday, the High Court judge, Sir Gervase Sheldon, said he had not believed anything Mr Keleman had said in his defence, adding: 'It is a tragedy indeed that having done so much to damage his children, even though he faces no risk of going to jail, he has not had the courage to admit and apologise for his behaviour.'

Mr Keleman, who sat opposite his daughters in the court yesterday, is now likely to have to sell the former family home in Purley, Surrey, to pay the damages. He had denied all allegations of sexual abuse and admitted only 'punishing' them with a belt when they had misbehaved. The judge said this was far from the truth. The women had described how the whole family lived in fear. If one child misbehaved he would often beat all three, sending one daughter upstairs to select from his range of belts which he would use on their backs and legs.

When he caught a daughter on her own, he would subject her to various forms of sexual abuse, threatening that he would harm or kill her if she told anyone and saying 'all fathers do this to their daughters'. He had gone to Helen's school claiming to the teachers she had a dental appointment when in fact he was taking her home to assault her, said the judge.

As the judge catalogued the abuse, the three sisters sat with their heads bowed looking obviously distressed. Sitting with them, their mother, Helen, wept throughout the 90-minute judgment. She had said: 'I should have done more, but I was a coward.'

She had eventually separated from her husband in 1984 after her eldest daughter had told her of his sexual abuse of all three children. The judge said he sympathised with the mother as she too was fearful of her husband.

Yesterday, after the hearing, the sisters said that events had been too shameful and harrowing even to discuss among themselves. Listening to the judgment was the first time they had a full picture of what had happened to each of them.

Helen said: 'This case was not about damages. It was about clearing our names and bringing him to account for what he did to us.'