Richard McCann (1971 - ) is a writer, Samaritan and is involved in SAMM (Support after Murder and Manslaughter). He is also a speaker on seminars designed to help victims of abuse or trauma, or their carers.
He was born in the UK, and was brought up, along with his elder sister Sonia and two younger sisters Donna and Angela, on the Scotts Hall Council estate, Leeds.
One October night in 1975, Richard, aged five, was alone in the house with his three sisters. It was 3am and their mother still hadn't come home. They waited all night for her, but she never came home.
Next morning, the police arrived to take the children away. Their mother had become the first victim of a serial killer, soon to become known as the 'Yorkshire Ripper'.
A tragic story of abuse
Wilma, Richard’s mother, had come to Leeds from Inverness in search of work. She met Gerry McCann, a joiner from Londonderry, Ireland and they married. The marriage did not last.
Their mother then lived a very precarious existence, as she lurched from one relationship to another. One of her partners, a man called Keith, raped Richard’s eldest sister Sonia repeatedly. Thus even before the murder, their home life was dysfunctional.
After Wilma’s murder, the children were initially taken to Becketts Park Childrens Home, after which all four children, [the youngest, Angela, was still in a cot], were taken to their father and his partner Pauline to be looked after.
The children were not told their mother had been murdered, or even when or where she was buried. But the news was full of the murders of Sutcliffe, so eventually that is how they found out their mother had died, by piecing together the news items and overheard conversations.
McCann, Richard’s father was a bully. McCann violently abused his children emotionally and physically. Pauline, McCann’s partner and still only 21 herself, was not excluded from the beatings. So bad were they, that Richard at one stage thought his father might be the murderer, and they lived in fear until the Ripper was eventually caught. All three girls eventually left their father. The two youngest begged to be removed, whereas in Sonia’s case she was removed after the school reported to social services that she was frequently coming to school covered in bruises and beaten black and blue. Both Richard and Sonia sniffed glue in order to mentally escape from the torture. Sonia has never really recovered and has attempted suicide.
Pulling himself up by his bootstraps
Richard eventually applied to the Army to get away from his father, joining the Cheshire 32 Heavy Regiment based in Dortmund, Germany. But the anger, the resentment and the hurt remained, and Richard drank to dull the pain. After going on a ‘drunken rampage’, he was arrested, put on a charge and finally invalided out as a result of his ‘psychiatric problems’. Richard refused to go into the psychiatric hospital, fearing that if he did, he might never get a job again.
But perseverance paid off and he found a job, bought a house and started to try to pull his life together. To help him forget, he went out to the Leeds clubs. Leeds has a particularly vibrant club scene, but it is also a place where drugs are freely available.
And here we have an interesting conundrum. Richard took Ecstasy and it helped him.
He gained confidence, felt better about himself and even felt able to talk to women, where before he had been hesitant. The terrible and shattering insecurity he had known as a child, spilled over into his adult life. He managed with the help of Ecstasy to conquer the fear that, just like his mother had ‘left’ him, so might other women he loved.
But he became dependant on the drug. And here we have the observation below, fascinating because it is an out of body experience caused by withdrawal from Ecstasy, not taking it.
Dependency led to him becoming a dealer, until eventually he was arrested for dealing and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment. He served 6 months in Armley prison. After his term in prison, he vowed never to touch drugs again.
Light at the end of the tunnel
At this point Richard sought help. He went to see both a hypnotherapist and a councillor, and he started two new hobbies to keep him out of the clubs – mountain biking and salsa dancing.
Richard also joined Leeds writing circle, in order that he could put into words what had happened to him, but in a way that would help others and the result was Just a Boy.
Since then he has written other follow on books, exploring other aspects of his life.
Amazon Book review by Miss J. H. Pritchard on 26 Feb. 2006
There are so many books being published nowadays about victims of murder, violence and abuse; many of which are often written very badly and for the wrong reasons. This book "Just A Boy" is totally different and written for all the right reasons. It has many positive messages for any reader.
Richard McCann's mother, Wilma, was murdered by the Yorkshire Ripper in 1975. Many people will remember those awful years when headlines were in the media everyday about the victims of Sutcliffe. But I wonder how many people have given any real thought about how the deaths of those victims affected their families? McCann's book gives a clear insight into how the media and social systems further abuse these innocent victims.
McCann's style of writing is very moving; it is not complex - it is straight to the point and hits the reader with a huge impact. I have spent 25 years working with both children and adults who have experienced abuse and can assure readers that this book truly reflects the world of victims of abuse. The book is honest, powerful and emotional; yet is it not sensationalised in any way - it is a true account.
McCann starts the book from the morning his mother did not come home. He then takes the reader through his childhood, where he and his siblings experienced extreme forms of physical and emotional abuse. His younger adulthood was also filled with trauma and torment BUT McCann is an incredibly determined person who survives and makes a success of his life. He starts to find some fulfilment.
What I love about this book is that it will educate all sorts of people. It will help victims of abuse who currently feel despondent or anyone who has been bereaved; it will give them hope and demonstrates that survival is achievable. For people who may not believe that such atrocities happen in our society the book will raise their awareness and give them a reality check. McCann's moving story should make everyone feel guilty about the fact that a lot of us have probably been sucked in by the media's portrayal of events and not given enough thought to the children who were left motherless. Finally, professionals and workers need to realise that we are still making the same mistakes as we did 30 years ago.
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