Woman who was sexually abused by her family aged eight pens book

Woman abused from the age of 9 by her brother and stepfather reveals her mum branded her a ‘w****’ and started participating – and she only got justice when DNA tests proved her dead baby son was fathered by her sibling

  • Maureen Wood was abused by her family from aged eight, and raped age nine
  • She fell pregnant with her first child aged 13, but he died shortly after 
  • She came out as gay in 2007, and was fully happy for the first time in her life 
  • She brought her family to justice and saw them convicted at a trial in 2011
  • Maureen has penned a raw book to recount her traumatising life experience 

A woman who was sexually abused by her family from the age of eight has laid bare their horrific crimes in a memoir that she hopes will give hope to other survivors, by showing that you can find happiness. 

Maureen Wood, 51, of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, suffered years of abuse at the hands of her mother Maureen Senior and stepfather John Wood, and fell pregnant as a result of rape by her brother, John Donnelly, when she was 13-years-old. 

The mother-of-five finally saw her attackers jailed in 2011 after the body of the baby son she’d given birth to almost 30 years earlier – who died when he was a few days old – was exhumed, and DNA testing proved he had been fathered by Donnelly.

The trio were convicted of abusing Maureen in 2011, and she won a £200,000 settlement from Staffordshire County Council after a legal battle against social services in 2016.

Maureen has now penned A Family Secret: My Shocking True Story of Surviving a Childhood in Hell, published by Harper Element. She said it took her a decade to get to a place where she felt able to write about her experiences. 

Speaking to Femail, she said: ‘It’s helped me close that chapter of my life. I think it’s something I’ll always carry with me, because it’s made me the person that I am today. But I don’t let it affect me in the same way that it did in the past.’

Maureen Wood, 51, from Stoke-on-Trent, has penned a book recounting how her step-father, mother and brother sexually abused her from age eight to 16, and how she brought them to justice in 2009, to see them convicted at a trial in 2011

From left to right: Step-father and abuser John Wood, Maureen on her wedding day, abuser and mother Maureen senior and an unnamed child 

‘My mental health was badly affected by the trauma and the court cases and bringing it all up,’ she admitted.

But she explained that it ‘wasn’t painful at all’ to relive the events of her past when she wrote the book, saying: ‘I was in a good place, a good enough place to be able to do it, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. It’s taken me 10 years to be in the right place to do this.’

Maureen is looking to the future and starting an Open University course in psychology or sociology, and hopes the book will help other people who have gone through the same thing. 

She said that while she has trust issues due to her ordeal, she’s also learned that not all people are evil, and can’t judge everyone by the standards of those who abused her. 

Maureen was placed in care at the age of three, after her parents separated, and never had a relationship with her biological father. 

But four years later, her mother, Maureen Senior, took her and her older brother, John Donnelly, named Jock in the book, back out of care and they were introduced to their new step-father, John Wood. 

Maureen, pictured as a child, left, was abused sexually by her brother John Donnelly, right, for the first time when she was eight. He raped her on her ninth birthday

John Wood, left and Maureen senior, right, were jailed for the abuse in 2011. Maureen senior died of cancer in prison in 2015 

When Maureen was eight, the sexual abuse at the hands of her brother – who was aged 14 – began.

In the book, she recalled the first two times her brother assaulted her, writing: ‘In my child’s mind he looked like a monster, a ghoul, a bogeyman, and nothing like my brother at all.’

On her ninth birthday, Maureen was raped for the first time. In the book she explained her brother said he had a ‘ special birthday present’ for her before the rape took place.

Maureen told Femail reliving the trauma to write the book was less painful that it had been during the trial 

Maureen with three of her five children, including her eldest son Ben, who’s now 31. Maureen was plagued with nightmares before she finally came out with her horrific story 

 Maureen wrote she remembered ‘a searing, cruel, unforgiving pain.’

A year later, Maureen’s step-father walked in on her brother raping her. She thought it would be the end of her ordeal, but Wood did nothing to stop the abuse from the brother, and later started raping Maureen himself. 

Maureen had hoped her mother would step in and help her, but she recounted in the book that Maureen Senior called her a ‘little w****,’ and blamed her for her own rapes.  

‘I didn’t understand. Clutching my smarting cheek, I listened in dismay as she insisted that I must have encouraged Jock in some way. That I was just as much to blame as he was,’ Maureen wrote in the book. 

Due to her situation at home, Maureen began dreading going back to her house after school, and ran away on several occasions. 

Maureen won a £200,000 settlement from Staffordshire County Council after a legal battle against social services in 2016. She had her eldest son Ben when she was 17. When she was 13, she gave birth to a baby boy named Christopher, who sadly died shortly after his birth 

Maureen with her five children during a day out when they were younger. At the time where she readied to come forward to the police with her story, she told her eldest children, Ben, in the blue shirt, right and Naomi, right 

‘I ran away often – sometimes out of desperation, sometimes out of spite. Sometimes I just wanted to see if anyone would miss me – and quite often they didn’t. Anything, anywhere, was better than home. I was fast learning that family was not to be trusted. And home was not a safe place to be,’ she wrote. 

Soon after her tenth birthday, Maureen’s mother became involved with the abuse.

In the book, she explained in raw details how the couple would take turn abusing her. 

‘They looked for all the world like a run-of-the-mill middle-aged couple, in any suburban bedroom. Yet they could not have been more abnormal, more depraved, more inhuman,’ she wrote.  

‘It became a fortnightly horror. Every other Saturday, Mum and John Wood would rape and sexually abuse me in their bed. I was made to endure unimaginable horrors, which, though I tried to block them out, burned through the lining of my soul and ravaged my very core,’ she wrote. 

A Family Secret, by Maureen Wood, is published by Harper Element 

Despite her horrific family life, Maureen enjoyed school and did well academically. She had friends but confided in nobody.

When she was 13, Maureen fell pregnant. 

‘It was early in the spring of 1984, when, aged thirteen, I started feeling sick, mostly in the mornings. I couldn’t even turn over in bed without a wave of nausea sloshing over me,’ she wrote. 

‘I noticed changes in my body, too. I had always been stick-thin, like a little match girl. But now I was developing curves and contours. At first I presumed it was puberty, but when my stomach began to curve also, I knew exactly what this was,’ she added. 

She kept the pregnancy a secret for as long as she could because she knew her mother wouldn’t let her keep it. 

‘This baby, this little heartbeat inside me, felt like the answer to all of my dreams and my hopes. For as long as I could remember, I had wanted to love someone, and for them to love me back,’ she wrote. 

‘All I wanted was a pure and innocent love. And this was my chance,’ she added. 

Maureen senior and John Wood were ‘terrified’ when they finally found out she was expecting, and told her to say she had been raped by a stranger, in order to save appearances.  

Maureen with her five children at the time of the trial. They said the eldest, Ben (centre) and Noami (right) were very supportive of her 

In October 1984, Maureen gave birth to a son, Christopher. He was born on her brother’s 18th birthday. Sadly, he passed a few days later. 

After Christopher’s death, Maureen’s mother and brother stopped abusing her. But her stepfather began assaulting her again only a couple of weeks afterwards.

He paid for Christopher’s funeral but signed the burial plot – and the bills – over to his stepdaughter. Meanwhile, Maureen Senior took away all mementos of the baby. 

The abuse continued until, at 16, Maureen left home after suffering eight years of horrific abuse.

‘For the next few months my life was wonderfully normal and predictable. Like most teenagers my age, I had no idea how to budget. I had to learn how to do a weekly shop and how to organise myself. In those early weeks I blew my entire week’s money on a night out and had to live on toast for the next six days,’ she wrote.   

Her late teens were a troubled times where she struggled with the memory of the abuse. She gave birth to her son Ben aged 17, but struggled with her past and drinking and lost custody of the baby shortly thereafter. 

 Maureen, pictured a few years after the trial, said she was looking to the future and thinking of taking an Open University course in psychology or sociology 

In the book, she shared that this led her to go through counselling in her late teens, but that she couldn’t bring herself to say that her brother and mother had been her abusers. Instead, she focused on her step-father, because the fact he was not a ‘blood relative’ made it easier.  

‘But over the years, just a whiff of old Spice, Charlie perfume and stale beer and I would be gripped by a panic attack, unable to speak or breathe. I was whirled back, like a leaf on the wind, to that bedroom with the flowery curtains and the small TV,’ she wrote. 

Thanks to the help of a counsellor, Maureen retained the custody of Ben a few years later. 

In a heartbreaking twist, Maureen reconnected with her brother and mother when her children were young. Her brother tried to assault her again ‘for old times’ sake. She said she would make sure that her brother and mother or John Wood were never alone with the kids. 

She explained in the book she was split between wanting to forget the abuse had ever happened, and wanting her children to grow up with an uncle and a grandmother and extended family.

Maureen went on to have four more children in addition to Ben, who is now 31: Naomi, 26, Josh, 22, William, 20, and Michaela, 18.

Although none of the relationships with her children’s fathers have worked out, she has always loved motherhood.

In 2007, two years after her divorce from Josh, William and Machaela’s father, Mick, Maureen started dating a woman and realised she was gay, and said she was a ‘happy gay mother-of-five.’ 

But that same year, Maureen started experiencing nightmares of her step-father raping her. She would make up screaming ‘he’s raping me’ in the middle of the night.  

‘My dreams were like gremlins, burrowing into my thoughts, turning my life upside down, threatening my happiness, my sanity, my very being. They were chaotic and sporadic, with the memories flooding out, in disordered and jumbled horror,’ she wrote.  

‘One night I dreamed about the start of the abuse, when I was a little girl, huddled in my bed, seeking refuge in the place I was least likely to be safe,’ she added. 

‘By February 2008 the nightmares were becoming so vivid that I was able to piece together months and months of abuse. During the day I would remember more details, and there seemed to be triggers everywhere I went.’

At that time, Maureen reached out to her mother, writing letters to her, saying she remembered the abuse she  endured. She said in the book her mother never replied, and that Maureen tried to take her own life soon after. 

In the summer of that year, Maureen underwent counselling to talk about the abuse she suffered at the end of her brother and of her mother. 

It is that counselling which allowed Maureen to contact the police about her abuse, and open an investigation against her mother, step-father and brother. 

‘Aged thirty-seven, I had finally found the courage to let go of a secret which, for twenty-nine years, had festered and blistered and threatened to eat me up completely. Yet there was no sense at all of a weight being lifted,’ she wrote. 

Christopher’s body was exhumed in July 2009 and reburied a month later. Maureen has no pictures of him but she has the small plaque from Christopher’s original coffin.

At Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court in October 2011, Maureen’s stepfather, John Wood, then 68, was convicted of seven counts of rape and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Her 46-year-old brother John Donnelly, received two years in jail after admitting rape, incest and indecent assault.

In a re-trial, her mother, Maureen Wood (senior), then 65, was found guilty of four counts of aiding and abetting the rape of a girl under 16.

She was jailed in October 2011 for nine years, and died from cancer in prison last year.

Maureen found it in her heart to attend the funeral, but she can’t forgive the past. She told Femail she never thought of her mother, step-father or brother since the end of the trial. 

A Family Secret: My Shocking True Story of Surviving a Childhood in Hell, by Maureen Wood and published by Harper Element is out on 18 March 2021. 

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