Prostituted at 12 by my mother... to Morris Minor icon Lord Nuffield
He was a titan of British philanthropy who founded an Oxford college. Now his victim – after a lifetime of silence – reveals her shattering police testimony
ONE of the richest men of the 20th Century, car magnate Lord Nuffield, once said: ‘I just want to pass out feeling I’ve done my best for mankind.’
History has certainly been kind to him, and with good reason. Today the multi-millionaire founder of Morris Motors – and of an Oxford University college – is viewed as one of this country’s greatest-ever philanthropists.
Yet for all the millions he gave away, there is at least one woman who still shudders when she thinks of Lord Nuffield’s ‘generosity’ and the price she paid in return.
This woman has told police that William Nuffield subjected her to a decade of sexual abuse, which started when she was 12 years old and ended only when she became engaged to be married.
Today, Ann Vaughan, now 79, has bravely agreed to waive her right to anonymity to reveal how the peer systematically assaulted her – with, shockingly, she says, the silent connivance of a mother who was cowed by his wealth and influence.
‘I realise now that my mother prostituted me at the age of 12 to a man who was 60,’ she adds sadly. ‘My parents always lived beyond their means. I was very young for my age and so when Nuffield singled me out, rather than protect me they must have seen it as manna from Heaven for them. Instead of protecting me, they allowed the abuse to continue for years, turning a blind eye. They used their innocent child to keep themselves in the style they were accustomed to.’
After she met Lord Nuffield in hospital while she was awaiting major hip surgery, he:
Called her his ‘little devil’ and a ‘tease’ while abusing her;
Paid her medical fees, making her parents feel beholden to him;
Made special arrangements to be home alone with her after her discharge from hospital;
Gave £8,000 (the equivalent of £250,000 today) of his shares to her, with her parents’ knowledge, months after meeting her.
It was the start of a long and abusive relationship, conducted in his guise as a family friend and benefactor. The abuse, which began in the summer of 1948 and continued even after she went to study history at Oxford University, only ended in 1959 when she told Lord Nuffield she would be getting married.
It is a distressing story but also a tangled one. With the passage of time, almost all evidence by way of photographs, mementoes and letters has been lost, stolen or destroyed.
Yet in person, Ann, who was presented to the Queen at Court as a schoolgirl and is a distant relative of Virginia Woolf, is utterly convincing. After decades of silence, it was a BBC documentary, which portrayed Lord Nuffield as an altruistic philanthropist, that led her to give police a statement, sickened that she might die without the truth about his alleged crimes being exposed.
‘I had to tell someone about this diabolical creature who had tormented me,’ she says. ‘I’m sure I was not the only little girl that Nuffield abused.
‘The injustice of this despicable man, admittedly to be admired for his inventions and business acumen, being a closet predatory paedophile has rankled with me all these years. My hope is that by speaking out it might embolden other victims to do the same and also it might deter other rich, powerful paedophiles from ruining the lives of children.’
As the pioneer of affordable cars, such as the Morris Minor, Lord Nuffield reputedly earned £2,000 a day (about £100,000 in today’s money). Yet, he lived in comparative modesty with his wife, Elizabeth. Today, the late Lord and Lady Nuffield’s home, Nuffield Place at Huntercombe, near Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire, is a perfectly preserved 1930s ‘time warp’ run by the National Trust, which is open to the public. But for Ann there are no fond memories of the house, as it is where her tormentor allegedly subjected her to some of the abuse.
In her police statement, she recalled: ‘I remember when I was 12 years old, Nuffield picked me up in his Wolseley car and drove me to his house, which had big electric gates. I remember being amazed that the gates were operated from inside the car and then horrified when they shut behind us as I was now trapped. The same would happen as it always did. His wife was out shopping and we would have lunch and then he would often remove my lower clothing and grope my genitals, often roughly. He remained fully dressed, although he would unzip his flies... He would tell me to say, “I am enjoying it,” which I refused to do.’
The abuse had begun months earlier when, in the summer of 1948, she was admitted to a private ward at the Wingfield Morris Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford for major surgery with Professor Gathorne Girdlestone, a pioneer of hip procedures.
Ann says: ‘The first I was aware of Lord Nuffield was when a nurse wheeled my bed into his room at the hospital as he had apparently heard me singing. He was in having surgery to his toe. This is when the grooming began. It started with Nuffield stroking my leg and telling me how pretty I was. Nuffield would tell me how much he loved children and was very explicit about his wife, their sex life and them not having children.
‘His wife refused to have sexual relations with him apparently. I remember asking him why he was telling me these things. I didn’t want to hear it. I did know about the facts of life but I did feel it was inappropriate him discussing his sex life with me.’
While she recovered postsurgery and after his own discharge as a patient, Lord Nuffield would continue to visit, buying her gifts. One in particular, a Swiss gold wrist watch with precious gems, had the words ‘To AEV, From N’, engraved on the back, while inside a copy of the 1912 Jean Webster novel DaddyLong-Legs, which he also gave her in hospital, he had written: ‘To the little Devil, from Me, Nuffield.’
SHE added: ‘I believe Girdlestone had his suspicions about Nuffield as on one occasion he was quick to order me to my own room when he found me in Nuffield’s bed.
‘I remember I used to ask Nuffield why he had no friends. He said that, although I was only a child, I was the only person he could trust. He made me promise never to say anything about our friendship.’
In September 1948 she was released from hospital and spent the rest of the summer at home with her family.
But she recalls: ‘Nuffield would visit me at home and would do inappropriate things to my genitals. I hated it. He would often try to put the blame on me by calling me “a little devil” and how I “tease him”, which I never did. My mother would even make us a cold lunch which he would eat and then abuse me. Mother was a good woman ordinarily and, years later, I asked her why she had allowed it to happen. She told me, “Girls often have to submit to thing they don’t like.”’
Ann believes there were suspicions about Lord Nuffield’s apparent affinity with children as she recalls a journalist calling her mother at home, saying a nurse had ‘blown the whistle’ on him. ‘She said she knew nothing of what they were talking about and put the phone down. Then she warned me about ever talking about what went on with Nuffield as he was very kind to our family. He was so powerful by then, he was untouchable.’
She adds: ‘I do recall him taking me to the bank on one occasion to get a bank account. He told the bank manager, “If you tell anyone, all of my money will be removed from the bank.”
‘We went into a private room. He paid in £8,000. It was a large sum at that time and enabled my family to live well beyond their means. He told me the money was so I could be independent of my parents – at the age of 12 – and I would always have enough money to support myself. I had my own cheque book and wrote cheques to my mother.’
In October 1956, Ann became a student at Oxford University, where she tried to throw herself into the social whirlwind of under-
graduate life, joining the drama society, where she shared a stage with the late actor Dudley Moore.
Just six months earlier, with high hopes that Nuffield would finally leave her alone, she had finished her boading-school education. Although not officially a debutante, she had been one of the last girls to be presented to the Queen at Buckingham Palace before the ‘coming out’ ceremony was finally abolished.
But Lord Nuffield still showed no sign of losing interest, she claims, and having been forced through the peer’s generous donation to become her family’s main breadwinner for years, she felt ‘conditioned’ to continue with their meetings.
She would regularly catch the bus from Oxford to Cowley, where his car plant was based. ‘I’m not sure anyone knew where I was going but I’m sure they wondered,’ she said. ‘There was a room above his office and in the room was a sinister leather couch. Nuffield would lay me down on this couch with him on top and he would fumble around. He was too clever to rape me because that would mean contraception and possible discovery.’
She added: ‘Nuffield used to boast that his personal assistant used to procure girls for him in South Africa and Australia, where he’d opened a new factory. But he told me he didn’t take to them like he took to me, because they were “too knowing” and had “lost their innocent looks”.’
Born in 1877, he had made his fortune as plain William Morris, an engineer who created the Morris Oxford ‘bullnose’, Britain’s equiva- lent to the Model T Ford, America’s new mass-produced car. By 1926, he was a multi-millionaire and began making a series of large donations to good causes. Lord Nuffield, who died childless in 1963, donated an estimated £30million to charitable causes during his lifetime – equivalent to £700million today. But with wealth came power. Ann recalls: ‘He was extremely devious and manipulative. What struck me was his delight at how he could get his way with everyone. When his wife was refused membership at a local golf club, he just bought it so she could play there.’
Ann says: ‘The last time I saw him was in his office in Cowley in 1959 when I told him I was engaged. He’d just abused me when I broke the news. In my naivety, I thought he would be happy for me. But he was absolutely furious.
‘I told him I was getting married in November. He ordered me out and told me he never wanted to see me again. I can’t describe the relief I felt for the first time in years.’
In recent years, she has undergone counselling to help her deal with the trauma of her abuse. Having managed to bury it for most of her life, her ordeal was reawakened two years ago by a BBC documentary commemorating his life and work.
‘Far from being a modest, kindly philanthropist as portrayed on the BBC, he was a ruthless, sadistic paedophile, distracting attention from his paedophilia by lavish donations to medicine in particular,’ she says.
‘After the programme, I became a swirling mess, short and tetchy. I realised I couldn’t live with the knowledge that I might go to my grave and never accuse Nuffield publicly. And it was only when I read the details of what Jimmy Savile did that I realised the severity of what I endured, but at the time my mother was not prepared to listen and I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe it.’
She decided to make a police statement, aware that as the peer was dead he could not be held accountable for his actions but wanting her account of events to be held on file in case other victims felt the need to come forward at a future date.
Sadly, she has been told by police that there is not enough evidence currently to make a case because many key witnesses are now dead.
Yesterday, a Thames Valley Police spokeswoman said: ‘We take all allegations of sexual abuse seriously and investigate them, but do not comment on individual cases.’
But Ann, a grandmother, admits she feels finally free of her burden. ‘It was a huge relief to me officially to record the events. I am so angry at the way in which rich, Establishment men continue to wreck children’s lives. I didn’t want to be haunted by this evil man any longer.’
‘He was so powerful by
LEGACY:Oxford University’s Nuffield College, which the car engineer founded in 1937
SPEAKING OUT:Ann Vaughan today
VAST FORTUNE: Lord Nuffield with his Wolseley in the 1950s and, left, Ann Vaughan, aged 13, a year after she met the peer