Nine years of hell: Child who was beaten, starved and raped by stepdad – then passed around to other paedophiles
Danni Smith, now 26, had to rummage through bins for food and was handcuffed for days in a locked bedroom covered in animal mess – but social services did nothing to help
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Tragic Danni Smith suffered an appalling childhood – beaten, starved, imprisoned and raped by his stepdad for nine years.
He had to rummage through bins for food and was handcuffed for days in a locked bedroom covered in animal mess.
The stepdad passed Danni to other paedophiles to be abused and by seven he had repeatedly tried to kill himself.
Social workers knew about the abuse for at least two years yet did not take him from the house of horror.
Danni, now 26, has won a five-figure payout from Brighton and Hove Council after a bitter 11-year fight to get the files which reveal the shocking negligence.
Council chiefs repeatedly tried to block him from accessing the records showing the horrors by cynically claiming it would be bad for his mental health.
He first applied for them when he turned 16 in 2006. Legally they should have been sent to him within 40 days. The files reveal what the authorities knew about his childhood.
They show he was badly neglected by his mum, who admitted the sex assaults may have begun when Danni was just four. Neither parent can be named for legal reasons.
Danni was so hungry he’d eat plaster from the walls and says his stepdad let other paedophiles molest him. He told the Sunday People: “Most people’s earliest memory is something to treasured. Mine is of being raped by my stepdad.
“When I wasn’t being abused, I was locked in a room for days on end, often handcuffed. It was filthy and there were animal faeces everywhere.
“The only food I was ever given was a Marmite sandwich, twice a week if I was very lucky. I never had a birthday or a Christmas present. I’d ask strangers to be my mummy.
“Social workers knew what was happening and chose to do nothing. No one who failed me has ever said sorry.
“I think they hoped I’d give up trying to find out why they turned their backs on me, but I never would have let it go. I’m determined this won’t happen to another innocent child.”
Danni was eventually taken into care in June 1999, two years after neighbours told social services of their fears he was being abused.
Social workers first noticed unexplained bruising on his face when he was just six months but, bizarrely, removed him from the child protection register several times.
Born a girl, Danni, who has changed his name now identifies as trans-masculine.
When he was taken into care aged nine, doctors identified horrific injuries to his genitals consistent with brutal sex abuse. Before this, social workers observed him, aged four, watching a porn film.
His stepdad’s filthy collection, including child abuse and bestiality images, were on the same tapes as kids’ toons.
This was just months after social workers saw Danni locked in a bedroom with black leather handcuffs round his ankles.
In 2015, his stepdad was jailed for 22 years at Hove Crown Court after being found guilty of six counts of indecent assault, five of rape and two of sexual assault against another child, aged just four.
Danni did not feel strong enough to give evidence against him. He said: “Before my second birthday, I was rummaging in bins looking for food. I’d be lucky if I was given two sandwiches a week.
On one rare visit to my aunt’s, I was astonished when she gave me a proper meal and asked if I’d had enough to eat.
“Our house was utterly filthy but I thought it was normal to be locked in a room for days without food, or tied up and handcuffed.
“Like any small child, I was desperate for a hug, for someone to tell me that they loved me or that they were proud of me but it never happened.
“Instead, I was sexually abused over and over again. It was excruciating, because I was so little.
“I knew it was wrong but I didn’t dare speak out for fear of what my stepdad would do. Sometimes, he’d let others abuse me, too. I was worthless to him.”
Danni would turn up at school so filthy and infested with head lice that no child wanted to be his friend.
Yet he dreaded going home and once threw a table at a teacher so he’d be kept behind after class.
Danni repeatedly attempted suicide and even threatened it in front of a social worker when he was seven.
Months earlier he had told neighbours about the rapes but social services took six months to launch a probe. Yet just months later social workers considered ending their involvement with the family.
Danni said: “I could’ve been spared a lot of this trauma if information had been acted on earlier. By the time I was taken into care, the damage was done. I had no idea what it felt like to be loved or cherished.”
Just weeks after being taken into care, Danni’s interim foster carers threw him a party for his ninth birthday and showered him with gifts. He said: “I burst into tears. I was so bewildered and confused by the unconditional love and attention. No one had bought me a birthday gift before.”
But Danni found it ever harder to cope with his past and began self harming and boozing. He wrote a poem about cutting himself called Dance with the Silver Devil.
His mum has divorced his stepdad but still lives in the house where Danni was abused. He said she had never been a mum to him and he is glad his stepdad is in jail.
Danni has post-traumatic stress disorder and fears he’ll never find love or have his own family. He said: “I grew up thinking it was impossible anyone would ever love me.
That’s something which is very hard to shake off. I’d be terrified to bring children into a world where such evil exists.”
Specialist child abuse solicitors Dino Nocivelli and Joseph Carr, of Bolt Burdon Kemp represented Danni and describe his case as a “huge failing” on the council’s part.
Joseph said: “There were so many opportunities to intervene and put Danni into a place of safety but Danni was let down, time and time again.
“As a consequence of these gross failures he suffered the very worst neglect and abuse imaginable which has had a terrible impact on his life.”
The council said an independent social care expert was looking into its practices following the case. A spokesman said: “We are acutely aware of, and very much regret, the pain and suffering caused to Danni Smith during his time in the family home.”
Joseph added: “It is shocking the council has still not acknowledged their failures or offered an apology of any sort for what Danni has been through.”