Photo Credit: Tingey Injury Law Firm
I don’t know why I typed his name into Google. I had been checking up on old childhood friends and their families whenever my curiosity got the better of me. But when I clicked on the first link earlier this year, there was his name. There was his photo, unmistakably, with his glasses and sandy brown hair in an article from the BBC,
“Victor Melleney, 76… a former BBC producer convicted of possessing indecent images of children…When officers carried out searches at his homes in Holland Park and Kensington…they recovered hard drives from his basement and in the pocket of a dressing gown he was wearing…”
I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, quite unlike anything I had experienced before. I pictured Victor Melleney standing in the doorway of his house on Royal Crescent, which I had been to many times. Victor often wore a dressing gown. He had a large belly and was about 15 years older than my parents. I wondered to myself: Had I missed the signs? And could I somehow be involved in this, in some sick and twisted way, without my knowing?
I remember Victor sitting in the left driver’s seat of his car. My mother sat next to him in the passenger seat, and I sat in the back. I was about nine years old. It was dark outside as we headed up Chepstow Road. He was probably driving us home after a performance at school. I can’t remember why but I said,
“Urgh, it sucks!”
“That’s very rude, Natasha. Children should not be saying that,” Victor said.
“What’s wrong with saying ‘it sucks’?” my mother asked him.
“Well,” Victor said, glancing at her, “What about sucking the big one.” He chuckled.
“I see,” my mother said with an awkward smile, “Well, I guess it is rude then.”
I was completely humiliated. I sat silently in the back of the car for the rest of the journey, scolding myself. I vowed to never speak again, for fear of opening my big mouth and letting something slip out. Luckily that didn’t last.
That I would be in Victor Melleney’s car was nothing out of the ordinary. My parents had met him and his wife in a birthing class in 1994, which sounds like eons ago. Both couples were pregnant with their first child. Born two weeks apart, I share the same name as his eldest daughter, and my sisters and I went to their same prim, all-girls private school. That I had a close friendship with his daughter is now chilling to think about.
When I was younger, I’d often go around to play at their house. Their townhouse on Royal Crescent was tall and grand, nestled behind a tree-lined pavement at the edge of Holland Park in London. As one of the top criminal lawyers in the country, and a member of the Queen’s Court, Victor’s wife was rarely home. In those days, she would have been called a tomboy. Her black hair was very short, and she wore rectangular, frameless glasses, which made her look very professional and serious at all times. Victor was in his late 50s during the time I knew him and may well have been retired already. I even remember going to their country house for a weekend in West Wittering in the summer, where I peeled apples and bounced on the trampoline and helped make crumble from scratch.
I remember they had a large grandfather clock in the dining room, which struck loudly every hour, and a computer in the basement with a strange ergonomic mouse that we would use to play Feeding Frenzy and other computer games that came on CDs. In their upstairs living room, they had a scratchy straw carpet. There I had watched their family video of a trip to Bermuda and The Day After Tomorrow on the TV. At one of their daughter’s birthday parties in that living room, I remember she had a birthday cake of a Barbie princess, and the cake was the Barbie’s skirt, covered in blue icing. I had been insanely jealous of that cake.
Whenever I went over to play at their house, we would often find Victor upstairs on the computer at all hours of the day. And this is where it gets very creepy. I had sleepovers at their house. Multiple sleepovers. Probably between the ages of 7 and 12 years old. I am now 27, and I am left wondering to myself: did anything happen? Did he take pictures of me while I was asleep? What about his daughters? Who has the god-awful job of sifting through material confiscated by the police, and identifying who all the children were? Does anyone contact the victims and just, you know, casually drop the bomb on them that there’s child porn of them floating around on the internet? How did they even catch him?
I don’t know the truth, and I hate to speculate. But the fact is that I spent a lot of time when I was a child with a man who has since transpired to be a massive paedophile, whom I trusted basically from the time that I was born. In addition to questions for the team that prosecuted him, I have questions for my parents. Why did you let me stay over at their house? Did you really think it was safe? And even if you didn’t know at the time, maybe you could at least say sorry because you put me in a ridiculous amount of danger? I’ll have to bring it up with them. I have no memory of anything ever happening at the Melleneys’ house. But the disappointing fact is that I stayed at their house during a vulnerable time in my early childhood when sleepovers were still terrifying.
Even though I was close to Victor’s daughter, I was not a good friend to her. I bullied her when we were children. I remember one night, when we were about 10 years old, I went over for a sleepover at their house with another friend, Bella. We played Feeding Frenzy for a couple hours together, until Bella decided she didn’t want to stay for the sleepover. I had a monumental decision to make. I could go home, effectively siding with Bella, or stay at the Melleneys’ house. I chose to go home. Obviously Victor’s daughter was heartbroken. As her mother drove us home, I remember her saying,
“You have to choose who your friends are, Tasha.” My name is not Tasha, by the way, but they often called me that. I obviously felt terrible that I had betrayed her daughter and acted selfishly to try and be cool and side with Bella. But in hindsight, whoopee! That was one less night that Victor could have done something to me.
I reached out to the prosecutor quoted in Victor’s story. Ogheneruona (Ruona) Iguyovwe is a lawyer for Crown Protection Service, a public agency for criminal prosecutions in the UK. She received an OBE from the Queen in 2017 for her services to Law and Order, and has prosecuted a number of key human rights cases, including the tragic incident of Vietnamese immigrants found in a truck last year. The article says that Victor “was cleared of a further charge of making indecent photographs”. Over a call with her team, they confirmed to me that I was not included in Victor’s indecent images. It was an unsettling relief. They couldn’t tell me anything interesting about how they discovered what Victor had done, but they confirmed that he had never made any images himself.
This experience has brought me to a number of conclusions. Firstly, I will ask my parents to apologize. Their acknowledgement of what happened will give me some closure on this issue, and I worry I will resent them if we never address it otherwise. Secondly, if I ever have children, I am considering restricting them to only having sleepovers at my house, for their safety.
Lastly, the most disappointing fact of all from Victor’s case is that he was given a suspended jail term. He won’t go to jail because his lawyers argued that he’s too old. It annoys me to no end that the law deals with wealthy and powerful men, like Prince Andrew, so differently from the rest of us, and their punishment never stacks up to the seriousness of their crimes. I believe Victor should go to jail for his crimes, at least for three to four years. From the article, it sounds like he had been downloading and watching this kind of pornography since the late 1990s. He may be old and not have much longer to live, but a 22 month suspended sentence is hardly fair if he has been viewing this pornography over the last 22 years. It’s demoralizing, to say the least. Justice needs to be done. The victims, and the world, deserve better.