‘I was kidnapped by paedophile Robert Frid when I was three’

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Media caption,

Robert Frid’s victim, now 40, was kidnapped from outside her home in Bracknell in 1986

A serial child abuser has been sentenced to another 10 years in prison after one of his victims helped a cold case team link him to a much earlier crime.

Robert Frid is now 78 years old. He was 41 when he kidnapped a little girl in Berkshire.

He subjected her to a “horrendous” sex attack inside his camper van, before dropping her off with money to buy sweets.

On Monday a judge told him he would likely never be released from prison. These are the accounts of two of his victims.

Melissa’s story, Bracknell, 1986

Image caption,

The attack in 1986 was reported in the Daily Express

Given she was only three years old, it is astonishing how much Melissa remembers about the day she was kidnapped.

Melissa is not her real name. As a victim of sexual abuse, she is entitled to life-long anonymity.

“It was my first childhood memory, it has always been a part of me, because it was always this mystery that never got solved,” she said.

Melissa had been playing with a friend outside her home on Bracknell’s sprawling Great Hollands estate when a man appeared.

“It was September time so it was dry,” she said, adding: “I remember I was wearing a sort of green and grey type dress.

“I remember very clearly the man approaching me and my friend, and clearly telling me that he was having car trouble and he wanted to know if we could help him.

Image source, Police handout
Image caption,

Frid lured Melissa to his VW camper van

“My friend said no, because she wasn’t allowed to go off with strangers. I wanted to help, so I went with him.”

His vehicle turned out to be a VW camper van. There was nothing wrong with it, and he drove her away. The police say she was missing for almost an hour.

“When you’re that age you don’t know what’s right and wrong,” Melissa said. “You don’t have the same ability to stop what’s happening to you.

“Before the assault and after the assault, it’s me. I can vividly remember and I put myself in those memories.

“The memories from inside the van… it’s as if I’m watching it happen to somebody else.”

Image source, Thames Valley Police
Image caption,

A document from the original 1986 case file described the dress Melissa had been wearing

Melissa’s attacker dropped her off at the local shops. He gave her money to buy a chocolate bar.

“As I walked out of the shops I saw the van driving off. I remember feeling very upset that he’d left me there. I remember just crying and then someone coming to check on me.

“I remember the police arriving, travelling back home in the police car and asking the policeman lots of questions. I remember getting back home and my mum waiting.”

Melissa said now she realises how lucky she is to be alive: “I’m really grateful that I came home and I’m here today to tell the story. It could have been very different.”

Cold case investigation, 2008

Image source, Thames Valley Police
Image caption,

Specialist investigator Phil Wenman (left) and Peter Beirne, head of Thames Valley’s Police’s Major Crime Investigation Review Team (right)

Retired police officer Peter Beirne heads up Thames Valley Police’s Major Crime Review Team. The team of six had so far caught six murderers and 19 sex offenders. The paedophile who kidnapped Melissa is number 20.

Paperwork in the original 1986 case file shows fibres, hairs and other samples found on her clothes, were sent for analysis but no DNA was taken because criminal DNA profiling was still in its infancy at the time.

Mr Beirne said his team’s re-investigation in 2008 was run as if the crime had just occurred. The scene was re-visited, witnesses who were still alive were tracked down and re-interviewed, and the physical evidence was taken out of storage.

Forensic scientists were able to produce an almost full DNA profile, but there were no matches against the National DNA Database.

Every year that followed, the team would run the DNA profile through the database. Again and again, no match was found.

Lucy’s story, Suffolk, 2020

Image caption,

Lucy was also attacked by Frid when she was a child

Three months into the UK’s coronavirus lockdown, Lucy was 13 when she finally told her Mum she had been sexually abused over a period of 10 years.

Like Melissa, we have changed Lucy’s name to protect her identity.

“During lockdown I really struggled,” said Lucy, now aged 17.

“Before the words came out of my mouth, I burst into tears and I physically could not get the words out of my mouth. She calmed me down. I told her. From that point on I was a wreck.”

Lucy does not know for sure but she thinks she was about three years old when she was first sexually abused. Her abuser was Robert Frid, who lived in Farnborough, Hampshire.

Image source, Police handout
Image caption,

Lucy says Frid is too dangerous to be released from prison

She said: “When you’re younger, you don’t feel like there’s any need to tell anyone, because it’s normal. A lot of my memories are blurred from that point.

“What he’s done to me is worse than anything that you could imagine. I babysit some of my friends’ children and sometimes I just look [at them] and think ‘how can someone do that to a child?’.

“It really did affect me and a lot of people around me which I wasn’t prepared for at all so that was very difficult for me.”

Lucy’s mother remembers the moment she told her: “I think I must have just gone into shock and autopilot. All I was doing was trying to say the right thing and comfort her.

“I’m just really angry about him. I don’t think he really realises the damage he’s done to all of us.”

Both Lucy and her mother believe Frid is too dangerous to ever be released from prison. “I do want him to die in prison,” Lucy said.

When Hampshire police investigated Lucy’s disclosure in 2020, it transpired another girl Lucy knew had also been sexually abused by Frid over a similar period of time.

In September 2021, after pleading guilty to six sexual offences against children, including attempted rape, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. His DNA was taken and uploaded into the police database.

DNA breakthrough

Image source, Police handout
Image caption,

Frid was finally caught and his DNA was uploaded into the police database in 2021

Months later, Mr Beirne’s cold case investigators ran the DNA of Melissa’s kidnapper through the database yet again. The breakthrough they had been hoping for was delivered in an otherwise unremarkable email.

Melissa was relieved the police finally identified her kidnapper. For decades, she feared her attacker may have been connected to her family or friends in some way, wondering if she knew him and if he was still watching her.

It transpired he was not connected to her at all. The police believe her kidnapping by Frid was opportunistic.

Melissa said: “It made me feel sick because I realised that he’s probably spent his whole life doing this.

“I just think how many girls have had to suffer because we weren’t able to catch him back then?”

‘They’re my heroes’

Image source, Thames Valley Police
Image caption,

The original case file was re-examined by the cold case team

Now aged 40 and living in Manchester, Melissa is grateful to Lucy and the other girl Frid abused for having the courage to give the police evidence they needed to prosecute him. “They’re my heroes,” she said.

“I admire them and I want to say thank you to them, because without them, he never would have been caught.

“The only reason that he has been brought to justice was because somebody spoke out. Therefore, he was arrested, he was charged and his DNA was then in the database and it matched the crime from 36 years ago.”

Lucy’s mother said her daughter “doesn’t realise how brave she’s been”.

‘You will be listened to’

In January 2023, Frid pleaded guilty to kidnapping and sexually assaulting Melissa in 1986.

Both Melissa and Lucy were in court to see him sentenced on Monday, finally meeting each other.

They agreed to tell their stories because they wanted to give hope to other survivors of sexual offences.

They believe finding the strength to disclose sexual abuse can, in turn, help victims to reclaim power from sexual predators. “You will be listened to,” said Melissa.

Mr Beirne warned paedophiles and other sex offenders who have so far escaped justice: “You may think you’ve got away with it but our team, and teams like ours throughout the UK, are working on these old cases.

“If and when we get the evidence, we will come knocking on your door.”

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