Where There is Evil – Sandra Brown – Book Review
As a child in the 1950’s town of Coatbridge, near Glasgow, Sandra Gartshore became aware that there was something not quite right about her dad. Growing up, she learned to keep her friends away from him, uncomfortable with the odd ‘tickling games’ he subjected them to. Friends told her they weren’t allowed to play with her anymore, one saying it was because, ‘your Dad does funny things.’
Known locally as ‘a ladies man’, Alex Gartshore spent time in prison for the rape of his children’s 13 year old babysitter. Sandra was told he was in hospital at the time. It was while he was home on bail in February 1957 that eleven year old Moira Anderson disappeared. She’d been sent to the local Co-op to buy butter one snowy Saturday afternoon and was never seen again.
When Sandra was a teenager her parents divorced, her father moved to England and she didn’t see him again for many years. It was in 1992 at her grandmother’s funeral that Sandra entered into a conversation with her father which led her to believe he was responsible for the murder of Moira Anderson. Her father told her how his own father had never forgiven him for ‘the Moira Anderson thing.’ Horrified, Sandra learned that her paternal grandfather had been convinced that Alex had murdered Moira, and even went so far as to pull up the new kitchen floorboards in their house as part of a search for her body. Convinced that he was responsible for Moira’s murder, Sandra began a long campaign to get the case reopened and solve the mystery of Moira’s disappearance.
‘Where there is Evil’, documents Sandra’s journey to find out the truth about her father. She revisits childhood memories and talks to family members and people she hasn’t seen in years. She is determined to bring the case to a conclusion but it’s a difficult path. Not only does she have to deal with the emotional implications for herself and her family but there are the complications of the Scottish legal system to deal with too. Some family members tried to keep her quiet, unable to understand why she’d want to ‘drag up the past’. Others accused her of ‘being in it for the money’. Sandra joined forces with members of Moira’s family and at one point a separate case for child abuse was instigated against Alex Gartshore but later dropped. Wrangles with the Crown office made it seem like a private prosecution would be the only option. Eventually it seemed that the only way to gain any kind of ‘justice’ was to publish this book.
The book jumps back and forth in time as Sandra recounts her story. It’s an interesting read, gripping in parts, some may find it upsetting. I also found some bits confusing, partly because some of the memories Sandra writes about weren’t made sense of until years later, so when she wrote about visits to a hypnotherapist I began to doubt whether what I’d read so far had been from memories which were ‘real’ or ‘recovered’. (I’m not saying I don’t believe in recovered memories, just that that I wanted to be sure which they were).
Her campaign came under criticism because of the involvement of psychics and Sandra does go into detail about this in the book. When I was reading it I did feel that this was inadvisable as a way of strengthening her case. No matter how accurate a psychic’s information may turn out to be, it can’t really be counted as evidence, and certainly not as any kind of proof. On the other hand if it was reported that psychics were involved and this hadn’t been written about in the book that could possibly have cast doubt on Sandra’s integrity, so I think perhaps it should have been mentioned, but not given quite so much credence as evidence.
It does seem that there was either some sort of cover up or else immense incompetency during the original investigation. A man on bail for the rape of a child is never questioned when another child goes missing on his doorstep? There are questions raised about the possible involvement of freemasons and other, perhaps sensationalist possibilities are raised. In what may or may not have been a coincidence, Rena Costello, Fred West’s first wife, was known to the family. Sandra had played with her as a child and for a while she was a bus conductor in Coatbridge, (Alex Gartshore was a bus driver). Suggestions of a paedophile ring connected to this case and containing the West’s, as well as high ranking members of the authorities, were made in later years by another convicted paedophile but dismissed as a hoax by police.
Although I was gripped by this story for a while, I became weary of it towards the end, without wanting to give up on it. I think it was possibly to do with the way Sandra herself seemed to be battered on all sides. It’s a grim, depressing and worrying read, but one that Sandra was obviously compelled to write. It’s major redeeming quality comes from the dogged determination of the author. Her father, on his deathbed, accused her of being like a dog with a bone. He died in 2006 having never admitted to Moira’s murder.
Alex Gartshore was allowed to get away with his crimes not just through the incompetence, (or a cover up), of the police, but also because of the attitudes people held, and many still hold towards child abuse. It seems a lot of people knew of his predilection for children, but took little action. Part of the reason was probably shame, feeling too embarrassed or too scared to talk about what had happened. Then there’s also the fact that people blame the victims, particularly young girls for doing something wrong and attracting the attention of these men. Many comments were made about the abused children in this book, that should be unbelievable but sadly are all too common. Brown’s determination may stem from the anger she feels not just towards her father but towards the way such crimes are minimized by society. She talks of her strong religious faith which has given her strength to carry on with her fight and one comes away from this read with a sense admiration for her sheer guts and determination. She calls her book a warning and pleads that we all shine light into dark corners for the sake of protecting innocents.
Sandra wrote and performed an acclaimed one woman play; ‘One of our Ain’, based on the book, and the case has been featured in three television documentaries. In the year 2000 Sandra set up The Moira Anderson Foundation, a charity that works with people who have been affected by childhood sexual abuse. Sandra was voted Scotswoman of the Year in 2005 and in 2006 she received an OBE for services to child protection. Through the writing of this best selling book, and her continuing campaign work Sandra Brown has provided a tribute to, and ensured the remembrance of, Moira Anderson.
(Details: Paperback: 312 pages Publisher: Pan; 2 edition (18 Aug 2006))