Young woman who survived taxi sex attack waives anonymity to help other victims

A young sexual assault survivor has bravely waived her anonymity to urge other women to speak out after she was attacked in front of her friends in a taxi.

Abbi Lawther was 21 when she was attacked by Simon Cash in 2018, who was jailed in March 2020 for 18 months but was recently released on parole from HMP Maghaberry.

Today he's back in Donaghadee, the same seaside town in Northern Ireland where Abbi works as a beauty therapist.

Abbi has chosen to speak out after years of cognitive behavioural therapy that helped her recover from suicidal thoughts after she was "devastated" by Cash's crime.

She told BelfastLive: "I know I'm not the only girl to go through something like this and I want other people to know it's OK to be devastated, it's OK to speak out and seek justice. I did it and I've survived."

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The Ballywalter local had been on a Christmas night out two years ago when she met "odd" Cash in Betty Black's night club in Bangor who "latched on" to her.

At 1am her friends went to the car park to wait for a minibus taxi and Abbi sat on the kerb, ignoring Cash when he sat down next to her.

"But suddenly he shoved his hand under my dress and inside me. I literally froze. I felt paralysed, unable to get away."

The taxi arrived and Abbi jumped in – but Cash squeezed into the backseat next to her.

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"He tried to hold my hand and I resisted so he knew I was awake. He tried to open my legs and I fought it. But he kept going, he shoved his hand between my crossed legs again. I was terrified.

"My friends were right in front of me but I was frozen. At the same time, this monster was talking away to the driver about how busy she'd been.

"Cash grabbed my hand and forced me to touch him and then he wiped his hand on my jacket. I thought I was going to die right there, die of terror and disgust. But that act would later be one of the main pieces of evidence against him."

When the taxi stopped at her friend's house, Abbi ran inside to escape Cash before texting a friend that something bad had happened.

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"I was scared he'd come in and get me again," she said.

The PSNI caught up with Cash on December 24 and arrested him. They questioned him and took his DNA and fingerprints before releasing him on police bail.

Abbi was horrified to learn he was a student in the nursing and midwifery school at Dundee University and wanted to protect other women from him.

But with the court case looming, Abbi felt "haunted", suicidal and terrified she would bump into Cash in the street.

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She said: "I was afraid of being slut-shamed at trial and I was ready to back out but I kept putting the decision off until suddenly he was in court."

On November 20 2019, Cash pleaded guilty to "sexual assault by penetration on a woman without consent and intentionally touching the same woman in a sexual manner without her consent". A third count was left on the books.

Four months later Cash was back in court after the Director of Public Prosecutions referred the sentence to the Court of Appeal as being unduly lenient. This time he was jailed for 19 months, half suspended and he was placed on the Sex Offenders' Register for 10 years.

Abbi said it scares her to think of how close she came to suicide, but she's happy now despite Cash being back in town on parole.

She added: "I know I'll see him one day. My friends have already seen him. There was a time I knew I'd have run if I'd spotted him. But today, after two years of hard work to recover from what he did to me, I hope I'd stand my ground.

"That monster changed my life forever but I'm working to make it a better life and I refuse to live in the shadow of his crimes."

If you or somebody you know has been affected by this story, contact Victim Support for free, confidential advice on 0845 30 30 900 or visit their website, www.victimsupport.org.uk.

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