Published: 05:00, 21 October 2021
| Updated: 18:29, 22 October 2021
A devastating campaign of child sexual abuse spanning four decades has now seen a “lecherous” pensioner put behind bars.
Here, two of his victims – his own granddaughters – tell bravely of the ordeal that destroyed their childhoods in the hope it will encourage others to speak out...
The word ‘grandad’ typically conjures an image of a kindly, dependable man, always ready to dust off grazed knees, or offer his last change with a smile and a knowing wink.
For sisters Sophie and Toni Quirke, that is just what Paul Wallis was.
But behind closed doors, their grandfather was also their abuser – a lecherous predator who destroyed their childhood and has shattered their trust in people to this day.
Sat on the sofa in their mum’s home, Sophie, now 22, and Toni, 20, recall childhood weekends spent baking, playing games and doing puzzles at their dad’s parents’ home in Hoades Wood Road, Sturry.
“They’d take us shopping, spoil us...grandparenty things,” said Toni.
The sisters speak to KMTV
“Our grandad was more of a dad to us than our own dad was,” adds Sophie. “His presence made me feel instantly safe and everything else melted away. He was my hero.
“Until, one day, that changed.”
The girls were about eight and six when Wallis touched them inappropriately for what would be the first of many times.
Sleeping over at their grandparents’ house, just five minutes from the home in Sturry where they lived with their mum, they woke in the darkness to find someone in bed between them.
“It clicked that it was my grandad,” recalls Sophie. “I could smell what I now know is alcohol on someone’s breath.
“He was tickling my back and I tried to fall back to sleep. He then put his hand into my knickers and started trying to touch me. I said ‘no’ and moved away, and he took his hand away.
“I rolled over and said ‘I think you should go get in bed with nan now grandad’, and he got up and he left.
“Me and Toni looked at each other, and I said ‘did grandad just put his hands on you too?’ She said ‘yes’, and it was kind of like ‘oh, OK’ and we rolled over and went to sleep.”
It would take years for the young girls to understand their grandad’s actions were abuse but, as they grew older, his behaviour continued and they began feeling uncomfortable in his presence.
Sophie became depressed and grew into an unruly teenager – smoking, drinking, self-harming and arguing with her mum daily.
"This fear of being with my grandad when he drank evolved, and I started to see all men as a threat to me..."
At 14, she moved in with her dad, and later her grandparents, where she began feeling “constantly on edge”.
Her grandad would become particularly “handsy” when he drank. “He would grab me and smack my bum,” said Sophie.
“I lost count of the number of nights that I hid under the covers in my bed pretending I was asleep, just so I wouldn’t have to smell his alcohol breath on my face as he forced me to give him a ‘real kiss’.
“I learned to shower in five minutes, so I didn’t have to have my clothes off for too long.”
Toni visited at weekends and recalls pretending to be unwell so she could go home early.
“This fear of being with my grandad when he drank evolved and I started to see all men as a threat to me, especially if they had been drinking,” she said. "I was very wary around men – still am.”
The young girls struggled to reconcile the doting grandfather who showered them in treats, with the man who violated them.
“He was this amazing man – our safe space – but then at the same time he was our abuser,” said Sophie.
They worried about what would happen to their tight-knit family if they spoke out.
But in summer 2015, at the age of 16, Sophie found the courage to approach her mum about his abuse. Her bravery encouraged Toni too to come forward.
Their mum, Canterbury city councillor Louise Harvey-Quirke, describes it as a “bombshell” moment.
“I absolutely worshipped Paul,” she said. “I saw him as my dad. He was so genuine, so caring. But as soon as the girls made their allegation, it put everything into question, all his motives.”
Wallis was arrested in the spring of 2016. And as police investigated, four other victims bravely came forward with allegations of abuse he carried out between 1984 and 2016.
One woman, now married with a family of her own, was groped by Wallis when she was 12.
While she stayed at his home in the 80s, he crept into her bed and touched her beneath her nightie.
Overwhelmed by her own heinous ordeal, Sophie’s mental health deteriorated and she made several suicide attempts.
“For years, I never slept soundly because I would have nightmares and would wake up screaming,” she said.
“I hardly ate. I became a recluse and couldn’t hold down a job. The only time I left the house was to go drinking.”
Sophie is now expecting her first child, and says becoming pregnant has helped save her from the dark place she was in.
But she still struggles to maintain relationships, and battles severe anxiety.
Toni too remains deeply affected by her grandad’s abuse.
“I feel like I have lost the confidence I had before all of this began,” she said. “I struggle to talk about anything intimate and I don’t feel that I show love.
“I know that I am very emotionally closed off and distant, and this is something that hurts my mum.”
She hopes to pursue a career as a dancer but finds it difficult to wear leotards around men, or to be touched.
“I feel that my grandad’s actions are preventing me from doing what I love,” she said.
Sophie, Toni and four other victims bravely appeared at Canterbury Crown Court on Friday, as Wallis was finally sentenced.
The 66-year-old sat passively in the dock as his victims broke down in tears, telling of their pain. The court heard how he insisted children in his care kissed him on the lips, and attacked some as they slept.
Prosecutor Peter Forbes said Wallis would offend when drunk and “when the opportunity presented itself”.
One of the victims told how she self-harmed following the attacks.
She said: “My life has been changed by this predator Paul Wallis. I feel revulsion and shudder at the memories.”
Other victims told of suffering flashbacks, deteriorating mental health and strained adult relationships.
Jailing Wallis for seven years in front of a packed public gallery, Judge Catherine Brown labelled his actions “lecherous”, and his attitude “limited in insight and remorse.”
“You were selfish and paid no regard that you were assaulting your victims, some of them were asleep and vulnerable, and many were vulnerable in other ways,” she added.
Mitigating, Danny Moore said: “There are green shoots of some level of understanding in the defendant, of the impact of these offences.”
“We know how hard it is to speak up, but once you’ve done it you’re going to be OK..."
Mr Moore argued Wallis’ offending gradually decreased in severity throughout the 40 years and he should not face an extended sentence.
Wallis pleaded guilty before trial to three counts of indecent assault, sexually assaulting a child under 13 and four counts of sexual activity with a child.
A further six sexual offence charges will lie on file.
Toni and Sophie, who expressed heartfelt thanks to the police for their work on the case, say they are happy with the sentence Wallis received.
“Hopefully, we’ll now be able to move on, and have the closure we’ve been so desperate for,” said Sophie.
“This case has consumed my entire life,” added Toni.
“Over the last six years I have watched it destroy my sister and tear my mum apart.
“I am so proud of all of the victims. I am happy that we all got to say what we needed to when it mattered the most.”
Their mum added: “I am incredibly proud of my girls. They have been strong, brave, and undeterred throughout.
“I hope all of the victims can now find peace, and begin to sleep a little easier.”
Sophie and Toni hope their experience will help raise awareness of abuse, and encourage other survivors to speak out.
“You may not think that these things happen in families or that it would ever happen in your family, but it does happen,” said Sophie.
“We know how hard it is to speak up, but once you’ve done it you’re going to be OK.
“There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, even if you don’t feel like there is.
“You’re not alone.”
If you’re worried about a child, contact the NSPCC’s professional counsellors for help, advice and support on 0808 8005000 or email email@example.com.
For confidential support on an emotional issue, call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time or visit their website.
If you want to talk to someone confidentially, click here.
To read more of our in depth coverage of all of the major trials coming out of crown and magistrates' courts across the county, click here.