Chenine Woods, a 37-year-old single mum from Cheshire, says she still “feels threatened” by the memory of her attacker, Frank Barham, after he was released from jail
A mum has told of her horror after learning a pervert driving instructor is walking free after serving only half of his sentence.
Chenine Woods, now 37, was just 17 years old when her driving instructor Frank Barham subjected her to a series of degrading attacks, including a serious sexual assault. The pervert even took Chenine to his home and inappropriately touched her whilst his wife and family were downstairs.
Barham, then 69, a decorated Sergeant Major from the British Army, was jailed for eight years in 2019 and branded a “predator” by a judge. But Chenine has now learned he has been released after serving four years, and he will be living a short drive away from her home in Winsford, Cheshire.
Mum of two Chenine says: “The abuse destroyed my teenage years and I still live with it now. When I heard he was being released, my stomach churned, and the memory of what he did to me came flooding back. I’m in tears, knowing he is out there.
“I still feel threatened by him, as though I am still that defenceless teenager. I have flashbacks and moments of panic. I heard the government plans to keep criminals in prison for longer, but I just don’t think they go far enough. A four-year sentence is nothing for what he took away from me, and from the other victims too.”
As a little girl, Chenine had been removed from her natural parents and was adopted at the age of five. She was studying for her A levels when her adoptive parents bought her driving lessons for her 17th birthday in September 2003.
She says: “Frank Barham was highly recommended by my mum’s friend. But on my very first lesson, he asked me what piercings I had, and he put his hand up my top to check my stomach piercing.
“I was absolutely shocked, but I said nothing because he was an adult, in his mid 50’s, and I didn’t want to get into trouble. He was really friendly and asked me what music I liked. By the next lesson, he had made me some CD’s.
“I was going through a bad time at home and Frank was very sympathetic. Looking back, he could see I was vulnerable, and he was grooming me. But I thought he genuinely wanted to help.”
But over six months of weekly lessons, Barham began a string of increasingly serious sexual assaults. He even took her to his family home and touched her inappropriately her whilst his wife was downstairs.
Chenine says: “It started with him asking me to wear a leather skirt and high boots for my lessons, which I didn’t. Then he told me I should look down at my gears more so he could look down my top.
“He put his hand inside my bra and made vulgar comments. And one day, he picked me up straight from school for a lesson and put his hands in my knickers as I was driving. I had my hands on the wheel, and I was absolutely petrified. I didn’t know what to do.”
Barham arranged with Chenine’s parents for him to tutor her at his home, in preparation for the driving theory exam. She says: “I thought I’d be safe there, I knew he was married with a child, but he took me upstairs to his study and he put his hand under my top and rubbed my back whilst his wife was downstairs.
“He didn’t take me home until 10pm that night and my parents were furious. They actually asked me if he was being inappropriate, and I said no. I just didn’t want to talk to anyone about it. I was upset and confused. I had enough trouble going on at home and I didn’t feel I could confide in them. It felt like I had nobody on my side.”
The abuse ended only after a horrific assault during which Barham ordered Chenine to drive to a deserted spot and attacked her. she continued: “I had my seat belt on, and I had my hands on the wheel. I was terrified. There was nobody around. I asked him if I could go home, and he said no.”
Chenine refused to have any more lessons. But the damage was done, and she went off the rails, skipping school and falling in with the wrong crowd. She suffered with mental health problems and began to self-harm.
She says: “I went through several years of feeling really bad about myself. I couldn’t be intimate with a man unless I was drunk. I put on over six stones in weight. I made a suicide attempt too. I felt worthless.”
Chenine reported the abuse to police in 2006 and in 2012 but was told there was not enough evidence to charge Barham. She says: “I was told it was his word against mine. It just made me feel even more than I didn’t matter.”
Chenine went on to have two young sons, now aged 12 and 7, and says they were reason she turned her life around. But the abuse always played on her mind. In 2017, out of the blue, the police contacted her to say there had been a number of complaints against Barham – and asked Chenine if she would testify.
At Chester Crown Court, in November 2019, it was heard the abuse against Chenine was the most serious by far. Other women claimed he had hugged them and slapped their bottoms. He had put his hand down the bra of one victim.
Another victim complained how Barham suggested she wear lacy red knickers as a lucky charm on the day of her test. The former 22nd Cheshire Regiment serviceman denied all offences against him, claiming physical contact was part of his teaching style.
But a jury didn’t believe him, rejecting his plea that a series of taps and prods were merely a way he taught his students how to drive. Barham, then 69, was convicted of three counts of sexual assault and all nine counts of indecent assault. He was jailed for eight years but this week walked free after serving only four.
Hospitality worker Chenine says: “I am traumatised by what he did to me. I struggle with relationships, and I have very low self-esteem. I’m a single mum, working two jobs to look after my boys, and I do my best, but the abuse haunts me.
“I’m devastated he has been released, back to his old life. He lives around a half hour car drive from me, and I panic I might bump into him, when I’m out with my children. It just doesn’t seem fair, and I think he should have served longer.”