Like every devoted mum the most precious memories in Hayley Gillingham’s life should be those of watching her little boy grow up.
Moments, such as seeing Flynn, eight, learn to ride a bike or hearing him say his first word, should be treasured by Hayley forever.
But she can’t remember Flynn being born.
She can’t even remember her own wedding day.
Hayley, 35, said: “I can’t remember half the things I used to do with Flynn when he was younger,” she says.
“Even little things, like when I give Ebony a bath now – I can’t remember ever doing that with Flynn, although I must have done it.”
Hayley was just seven years old when the abuse began (Image: Adam Gerrard/ Daily Mirror)
The amnesia is because suffered such a traumatic childhood of her own and blocked out years of her life in a bid to numb the pain and to forget the abuse she endured at the hands of her own father.
Hayley, who has waived her right to anonymity to reveal her story, says it’s only since having her daughter Ebony-Rose a year ago that she’s realised how much of Flynn’s childhood she’s lost.
She said: “It was reminding me of my own childhood. I think if I try and remember things, it just brings back all the memories of my dad and not only do I not want to do that – I just can’t.
“I would love to remember Flynn walking for the first time, talking for the first time and bringing him home from hospital.
“It’s really sad, it breaks my heart, but I can’t bring myself to remember.
“It’s like being a first-time mum with Ebony which is hard because if people ask me about things I have done with Flynn, I can’t give them an answer.”
Stay-at-home-mum Hayley, from Blandford Forum in Dorset, has constant black holes in her memories from the decades of sexual and emotional abuse her sick dad Derek Norton subjected her to.
Hayley was just seven years old when the abuse began (Image: Adam Gerrard/ Daily Mirror)
Hayley was just seven years old when her father began sexually attacking her.
“He would touch me, he made me do sexual things to him and he raped me,” Hayley explains.
“He used to tell me that it was normal and I didn’t know anything different. I thought my friends’ dads were doing those things to their children too.
“It sometimes happened at home and sometimes at my nan’s house. No-one else was ever around when he did it. He would even do it when I was ill.
“When I was 11, the sexual abuse suddenly stopped. I don’t really know why – maybe he thought I would tell someone as I got older, or because I was starting puberty and he wasn’t interested anymore.
“I can hardly remember those childhood years or my adolescence though, even regular things like going to school. I blocked most of it out as a way of coping.
“I didn’t tell anyone what had happened.
Hayley hopes to help other victims of abuse (Image: Adam Gerrard/ Daily Mirror)
“My dad said that if I did it would split the family apart and we would end up in care. I didn’t want to break up my family so I continued to keep it all inside. I think things may have come out sooner if I’d known how to show emotion.”
The horrific sexual abuse may have stopped, but evil Norton, 69, continued to wield his manipulative emotional power over Hayley for years after.
He would constantly ring her, stop her from spending any time alone without him, and destroyed her relationships.
He treated her like a slave, making her do his ironing and other chores.
“I wasn’t allowed to do anything with Flynn on my own, even just got to the local swimming pool,” she explains.
“If I wanted to do something, I had to ask for dad’s approval.
“I would see him every day, he lived just a few doors down – but I thought it was normal, because that was all I knew. I thought it was what loving dads did, because that’s what he made me believe.”
Derek Norton was jailed for 16 years (Image: Adam Gerrard/ Daily Mirror)
Chillingly, Norton even went wedding dress shopping with Hayley in 2008, insisting he had to approve of the outfit before she was allowed to wear it.
In fact, he used to insist on accompanying her on every shopping trip, discarding certain clothes for being “tarty” and telling her what she could and couldn’t wear.
It was this extreme obsession to have complete control over Hayley that led to the breakdown of her marriage with Flynn’s father.
“I can’t picture my wedding day,” she says.
“My marriage would have lasted if my dad wasn’t in the picture.
“Dad was very jealous. He would never let us spend any time together with Flynn alone as a family without him being there, too.
Hayley can barely remember her childhood (Image: Adam Gerrard/ Daily Mirror)
“Even when I was single, he would ring me up at 9.30pm and say something was broken at his house and I had to go over and help him, and then I would end up staying for a couple of days. I couldn’t have a life of my own.”
It took Hayley 25 years of horror before she finally plucked up the courage to tell someone about the abuse.
She doesn’t know exactly why she decided to speak out, but she started to realise her dad’s behaviour was not normal.
“My best friend wasn’t like that with her mum and dad,” she says.
“I had known the sexual abuse was wrong as I got older, and then I started to realise the way he was acting when I was an adult was wrong, too.”
There was one particularly disturbing thing that Norton said to Hayley which really triggered her to take action, however.
“He swore on Flynn’s life that he had never done anything to me,” she says.
“And that’s when I thought: ‘This is not my life, this is my son’s life, and I am not letting you say that.’”
Even into adulthood, Norton wrecked Hayley’s life (Image: Adam Gerrard/ Daily Mirror)
At the age of 31, Hayley plucked up the courage to report her father to the police.
Incredibly, Hayley looked him straight in the eye as she testified while he stood in the dock during his trial at Bournemouth Crown Court.
Norton was found guilty of rape and seven indecent assaults against Hayley and jailed for 16 years in 2013.
Hayley can barely describe how much her life has changed since.
“I came out of that police station like a completely different person,” she smiles.
“It was such a relief to tell someone. I felt like I’d finally done something about it.
“I was absolutely over the moon about it. I didn’t have to bump into him in town or look over my shoulder anymore. I was free to live my own life.
“The police officer said he could see the relief on my face from one moment to the next the more I spoke.
“The first thing I used to think about in the morning was my abuse as a child, and the last thing I used to think about at night before I closed my eyes was my abuse as a child.
Every hour the voices of 20 children desperately calling for help are going unheard (Image: PA)
“Now, I don’t think about it at all. Now, I just think about my own children.
“It’s the best thing I have ever, ever done – except for having my children.”
Hayley says Flynn can remember his “grampy” and sometimes recalls things they would do together.
But she has been brutally honest with him about the kind of man his granddad is.
“I told him the reason why grampy is in prison,” she says.
“I want to be honest with my children. I told him grampy is a naughty man and he had done something horrible to mummy.
“I have explained to Flynn that’s he’s a paedophile, and what a paedophile is.
“I think it’s really important to be 100% honest with kids. Honesty is the best policy and the best way of educating them.”
Now, Hayley is supporting the Daily Mirror’s campaign with the NSPCC and Childline because she wants no child to feel as scared and alone as she did.
Every hour the voices of a shocking 20 children desperately calling for help are going unheard, according to new figures revealed in the Daily Mirror.
And research also shows more than 60,000 cases of non-recent sexual abuse against children, like Hayley’s harrowing story, were reported to the police in the past four years.
The number of reports where the offence is alleged to have occurred more than a year earlier rocketed from 10,493 in 2013/14 to 20,410 in 2016/17.
“I think I would have spoken out sooner had I known about Childline or been taught about abuse at school,” Hayley says.
“I feel like all children should know about Childline and it could help to save lives if it receives more funding.
“I have finally got my life back, and I don’t want another child’s life to be taken away like mine was.”
‘Blackouts are a sign of PTSD’
Consultant clinical psychologist Elie Godsi, author of Violence and Society: Making Sense of Madness and Badness, explains that Hayley’s blackouts were a form of post-traumatic stress disorder and post-natal depression following years of abuse.
Elie says: “What people often do when they have been through a traumatic experience like Hayley is disassociate, and what I mean by that is they take their minds away from their bodies – it’s like an out-of-body experience.
“In order to cope with the horrors of what has actually happened, people often see their mind drift away from the body.
“So that sets a precedent as a copy mechanism for anything else in the future that might be difficult.
“It’s very useful for block out abuse – but it’s not very useful later on in life when you try to remember things you actually want to remember, like Hayley raising her son, for example.
“It is something that happens very often as people try and suppress their memory skills.
“Having children can be particularly difficult for people who have suffered child abuse because it then becomes a mirror of their own childhood and that’s very painful. It is often a trigger for post-natal depression, which I also suspect Hayley suffered from after having Flynn.
“She’s describing a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, and it’s very, very common after childhood abuse.
“Speaking out against abuse, as Hayley did, is often a very transformative experience because then you’re re-scripting and re-writing your experiences in a new way.”