Among the photograph albums tucked away in drawers at the Burke family home is a photo showing the family at its happiest. Taxi driver Martin Burke and his wife Susan are shown surrounded by their five children.
For the youngest member of the Burke family — the baby cradled on Susan’s knee — is none other than Karen Danczuk, the selfie-obsessed, publicity-hungry wife of Rochdale’s Labour MP Simon Danczuk. Over the past fortnight, the 31-year-old’s claim that she was sexually abused as a child has been splashed across national newspapers — along with her argument that her predilection for posing in risque selfies is her way of coping with the trauma of her ordeal.
Amid questions over why she made such a personal accusation without going to the police first, she and her family have embarked on a bitter war of words about the truth of her story. They also have very differing accounts of the life they once shared in a small end-of-terrace house in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. But it was this week, when Mrs Danczuk finally went to the police with the name of her alleged abuser, that the Burke family went into meltdown.
The Mail can now reveal that the name she gave to police was that of one of her own brothers, Michael Burke, a 36-year-old former security guard and divorced father-of-three.
In yet another interview last weekend, before she went to the police, Mrs Danczuk claimed her abuser had raped her hundreds of times between the ages of six and 12 and left her with internal injuries.
Michael Burke is adamant that the claims are categorically untrue.
|Susan Burke holding Karen beside Michael|
In an exclusive interview with the Mail this week, Michael Burke told of the moment last Sunday evening when he received a phone call from Greater Manchester Police, and his ‘stunned disbelief’ when told that his youngest sister had named him as her abuser.
‘I feel very angry about the whole situation,’ he said. ‘My whole life has been turned upside down and I fear leaving the house because people might attack me.
After his arrest last Sunday, Michael was placed in a police cell for six hours before being questioned for an hour and then having his photograph and fingerprints taken.
‘It was a horrible experience being arrested in front of my father for raping his daughter,’ he says. ‘I’m just so shocked and disgusted by it all.
‘They asked about my upbringing and what type of childhood we all had. How we communicated with each other as children and how we all got on.
‘I just told them the truth — that we had a good upbringing and that we all used to get on. They then went on from there to Karen and asked how we got on. I said I was closer to her than my brothers. Then they asked me things that no brother ever wants to be asked about their sister. It was the worst things you can imagine. It was really intimate stuff about whether I had touched her. It made my stomach turn.’
Living in such a small community, word of his arrest soon got out.
‘People have been throwing eggs at my house and have been gathering on the green at the front of it,’ says Michael. ‘I’d lived there for 15 years, but now I don’t think I can go back.’
A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Police said other family members would be contacted regarding the allegations, adding: ‘The investigation is progressing. We currently have a brief account of what happened and we are trying to secure a video interview with her [Karen]. She has not committed to anything yet.’
|Karen Danczuk (pictured) is the wife of Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk|
But now Mrs Danczuk has made her abuse claims so public, her family feel they, too, have a right to speak out.
Aside from the abuse, Karen has accused her mother of promiscuity, saying: ‘If she spent more time being a mum instead of having lots of relationships with different men, there’s no doubt I would have been better protected.’
Michael — the sibling she now accuses — and their brother Christopher backed up their mum’s story in the same article.
Mrs Danczuk’s response to her mother and brothers’ counter-claims was to wheel out her father, retired 72-year-old taxi driver Martin Burke, releasing a statement on his behalf that spoke of his regret at not being there for his daughter at the time of the alleged attacks and saying: ‘All I can do as her father is give her as much love and support as possible.’
The statement said: ‘We’ve always known Karen was very troubled and seemed to be carrying a burden she was unable to talk about.’
But this week, in an astonishing about‑face, Mr Burke contacted the Mail to say that he wanted to retract ‘a statement attributed to myself’. In a letter, he added: ‘I did not make this statement, neither in whole nor in part.’
Later, at a meeting with a Mail journalist, Mr Burke explained that he had no idea that his daughter was going to release a statement on his behalf and was ‘surprised’ when he saw it in the newspaper.
While his claim is undoubtedly bizarre, it does give an extraordinary insight into how Mrs Danczuk, whose husband has campaigned vigorously on anti-child sex abuse issues, has handled the media storm around her abuse claims.
According to her father, after writing the statement in his name, she phoned him and read it aloud over the phone.
‘I was on the train to Liverpool with my son Michael when I got a phone call from Karen,’ he said. ‘She read out a statement to me, but I couldn’t hear her properly and just agreed to do whatever she wanted. It was only when I saw it in the paper that I realised what was going on.
Breaking down in tears, he said: ‘I have always stood by her. I have tried to stay out of it before and that’s why I did not speak to anyone. But I feel as if she has taken advantage of me.
‘I still love her, I am just disappointed in her. I will always support my daughter, but not if she is going to put my other child into prison. This is one time when I cannot support her.’
He also claims that an impromptu photograph Mrs Danczuk posted on Twitter last week of herself with her father, along with the caption ‘xxx’, had taken him entirely by surprise.
‘I walked in and before I could even take my hat off she put her arm around me and then took a picture,’ he said.
‘The next thing I knew it was all over Twitter. I didn’t know she was going to use it like that.’
Regardless of the truth of her abuse allegations, much of Mrs Danczuk’s recent behaviour has left those who know her baffled. She claims she no longer has relationships with anyone in her family, aside from her father and sister Claire.
So why, asks Michael, was he invited to her wedding to Simon Danczuk in May 2014, just as she was invited to his wedding in February 1997?
‘We both went to each other’s weddings,’ he said. ‘And we have always got on, so I’m not sure why she is saying these things.’
In the run-up to Simon Danczuk’s win at the 2010 General Election, Michael also stepped in to help out with his campaign, even dressing up as a banana to torment incumbent Lib Dem MP Paul Rowen over the 40p he claimed on his expenses after buying the fruit while on official business.
In 2009, Michael was also photographed campaigning with former Labour Cabinet minister Hazel Blears when the MP came to Rochdale to support Mr Danczuk.
Then there is the fact, confirmed by Mrs Danczuk’s father, that until four months ago, Michael was helping out at the delicatessen owned by the Danczuks in Rochdale High Street. Danczuk’s Delicatessen was launched in December 2013, apparently as the fulfilment of an entrepreneurial dream.
But by the end of February 2014, the business owed around £10,000. Earlier this month, Mrs Danczuk announced she was selling it to ‘achieve a better balance of work and family life’.
According to Martin Burke, he bought the cafe from his daughter for the sum of £1.
This week, Mrs Danczuk’s sister Claire, who has refused to discuss her sister’s case, was still working in the delicatessen, while Michael and his father sat nearby discussing the turmoil that has engulfed their family.
For Martin, whose family originally came from Galway in the West of Ireland, recent events are the stuff of nightmares. A staunch Catholic who took his children to church every Sunday, he met his wife Susan at the Rochdale taxi rank where he used to work. She was just 18 and he was 33, and he left his first wife and son to marry her.
But after producing five children, their marriage broke down.
Karen Danczuk claims that her father moved out in 1990 after one of her mother’s lovers had already moved in. This, she says, is when her abuse began. She would have been about five or six.
But Mr Burke and his wife claim it was 1995 before he moved out. The age gap began to affect them, but the split was amicable.
Mrs Burke says she had a boyfriend afterwards, but it did not work out.
The contradiction in dates is important because Mr Burke insists he was living in the house for longer than his daughter says, and saw no evidence of abuse. ‘It never happened. I lived in the house at the time and I did not leave until 1995. She shared a room with her sister. They had bunk beds, so no one could have gone in her room without the rest of us knowing.’
Money was tight. ‘But they never wanted for anything and they all seemed very happy,’ says Mr Burke.
Certainly, they are not all happy today. Just to complete the picture of dysfunction, the couple’s eldest child, Stephen, once Simon Danczuk’s campaign manager, no longer speaks to any members of the family.
Why Mrs Danczuk told all in a sensational tabloid interview, rather than deal with the matter while maintaining the anonymity that the law grants to abuse victims, is moot.
Last week, a source close to her said that giving such interviews was ‘part of a process of coming to terms with what happened to her’, and that she ‘wanted to send a message to other victims that it is possible to turn your life around despite being abused as a child’.
Mrs Danczuk has announced her decision to step down as a Labour councillor in Rochdale at the May elections and is believed to be lining up a media career for herself.
In less than a year, her public profile has grown enormously, thanks to the hundreds of flirtatious photographs she posts of herself online wearing low-cut tops and a doe-eyed expression.
Her role as self-described ‘Queen of the Selfie’ has garnered her more than 46,000 Twitter followers. In the past week, she has hired Borne Media, the PR group which emerged from the ashes of convicted paedophile Max Clifford’s former business.
Hungering for a place in the limelight is not, of course, evidence that Mrs Danczuk wasn’t abused. Some might say that her need for approval does suggest something traumatic at the heart of her childhood.
There is also the possibility that her family are in denial, unable to cope with a horrific family secret.
Certainly it is hard to see what good has come by making her claims in such a public fashion. While she may hope to give other abuse victims confidence in coming forward, the family in-fighting that has ensued has been so savage — and so public — it might just as easily deter others from speaking out.
Who knows how this will end up? Karen's behaviour certainly strikes me as being consistent with a girl who was chronically sexually abused. Her family's denials are nothing unexpected for a family suddenly facing such accusations.
What I don't see here are any indications that Karen had behavioural problems growing up (except for her own words attributed to her father), that would indicate extraordinary narcissism which she seems to display now. Narcissism can be one of the many consequences of child sex abuse.
Also, there was no mention of any particular event that would cause Karen to turn on her family. It seems to me that something had to have happened at some point to bring that about. Consequently, I am inclined to believe her.