I came face to face with the stepdad who abused me
For years Laura Coel thought she would never escape the demons of her past.
Sexually abused by her stepdad as a child, she went on to suffer years of eating disorders , drug abuse, self-harm and heavy drinking.
She felt worthless, like she didn’t deserve to live. As she hit rock bottom she finally reported and he was jailed for 10 years.
But she couldn’t shake the fear of what would happen when he got out.
Only now, aged 30, after confronting her attacker face to face, the mum-of-two finally feels able to move on with her life – 22 years after the abuse began.
“I needed to see Brian,” she says. “I was thinking about it all the time when he got out of prison.
“I was paranoid, I was worried I would bump into him in the street and I didn’t know how I would react.”
Laura from Morpeth, Northumberland, who has bravely waived her right to anonymity to help others, arranged a visit with Mowbray, 59, through the Restorative Justice Council, which empowers victims of crime to move on with their lives.
After 11 months of preparation a meeting was arranged at a probation service office in Gateshead.
It was the first time in the Council’s history that a victim of a sexual assault was able to sit across from her attacker and tell him she forgave him.
Laura was still struggling with feelings of love for Mowbray before the meeting.
“I’d loved him as a stepdad, and I wanted to say goodbye to the part of him I’d loved,” she says. “He was part of our family.”
The meeting made her realise she is no longer a victim.
“Brian seemed weak,” she says. “He seemed half the man he’d been before. But I felt strong and in control.
“It was really important to me to let him know that, while he’d affected the first 30 years of my life, I wasn’t going to let him ruin the next 30.
“It felt good to be able to say that.”
Laura says the abuse began when she was just eight years old. She was introduced to Mowbray not long after her parents’ divorce and he soon moved in to the family home. Sickeningly, he told Laura she was his “girlfriend”.
“I was abused every day for six years,” she says. “It seems like it was always there and it was part of everyday life.
“Brian made me believe that we were having an affair and were going to run off and get married.”
One Christmas Day, Laura was assaulted just feet away from all her relatives as they sat eating their dinner.
The abuse ended when Laura was 14 – but that was when the after-effects of what he had done started to take hold of her life.
Laura suffered with bulimia and anorexia and started cutting her arms. She left college at the age of 19 due to deteriorating health.
At one stage even tried to kill herself with an overdose. It was then she finally knew she had to go to the police.
Mowbray was sentenced to 10 years at Durham Crown Court in 2006 but only served four.
Now Laura says she has been able to forgive him – and he broke down when she told him so at their meeting.
“Brian got very emotional and had to leave the room,” she says.
“He said he couldn’t understand why I’d want to forgive him. I told him I’d moved on and forgiving him was for me, not for him.”
Now Laura, mum to four-year-old Marley and six-year-old Lola, is a successful singer and has been in a relationship with her girls’ dad Ashley Sage, 43, for 10 years.
Her dark days are all in her past, as is Mowbray.
“If I bumped into him in the street now I’d just nod,” she says. He has no control over me any more.
“I don’t have that fear any more.”