Eric Cullen

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Eric Cullen
Born Eric Robertson Cullen
(1965-07-12)12 July 1965
Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland
Died 16 August 1996(1996-08-16) (aged 31)
East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire, Scotland

Eric Robertson Cullen (12 July 1965 — 16 August 1996) was a Scottish actor who was famous for his role as Wee Burney in BBC's Rab C Nesbitt[1] Cullen was born with achondroplasia - a type of dwarfism.[2]

Early life[edit]

He was born to a single mother Margaret Sloan and was adopted by a family from Hamilton. He was diagnosed with achondroplasia at the age of seven.

Acting career[edit]

Cullen began acting at school. He started to find roles appearing in several theatre groups before appearing in several 1980s Scottish TV programmes, particularly A Kick Up the Eighties.[3] Cullen eventually found lasting fame playing the youngest son, Wee Burney, in the first three seasons of Rab C. Nesbitt.[4] However he left the series, owing to personal problems, in December 1993.[5]

Victim of Abuse[edit]

Cullen was sexually abused by a violent paedophile ring as a teenager, and since his condition meant that he looked much younger than he was, this abuse continued into his twenties. Once he became a successful actor, his abusers returned to extort money with menaces. As a result he developed severe clinical depression.[6]


He was drawn to police attention by an informant, another victim, in July 1993, but it was Cullen's home which was raided by detectives. At the television actor's house, they seized a large quantity of pornographic video material - an operation which was inexplicably publicised by the police in a complete departure from accepted Scottish practice in criminal arrest matters. Cullen always maintained that the pornography involving children was not his but that Currens had forced him to keep it. That always had a ring of truth since paedophiles such as Currens are known to be adept at planning ahead against the day when they are caught. In the event, Cullen's evidence helped indict Currens, who served a lengthy sentence in Peterhead prison before dying due to suffering multiple organ failure after an illness. Because of the enormous publicity, Cullen had suffered near-terminal damage to his television and stage career and, as the police trawled through the pornography, they inevitably found material which pointed to a greater involvement by the star. The procurator-fiscal refused to accept that Cullen's part had been solely as a victim and four indecency charges sealed his fate. The charges were not by any means at the top end of the scale of seriousness, so there was shock and amazement when the sheriff at Hamilton swept aside the defence plea and all the supporting evidence and imposed a nine-month prison term. A shattered Cullen was led away to Barlinnie Prison, where anxious officers ensured his safety by keeping him under surveillance in the prison hospital. A shameful episode was brought to a close by the Appeal Court which quashed the jail term and substituted the probation which should have been imposed in the first place. Cullen was by then utterly broken and tending towards suicide. That he was saved from this course is a tribute to the McFarlan family and their close circle of friends. McFarlan always believed Cullen pleaded guilty to the indecency charges because he was sick of the heartbreak and close to breakdown. He wanted it over and done with so he could try to start again, to resurrect his television career. He was close to returning to something like his old self in recent months. Neighbours had remarked that he was regaining his old cheerfulness and openness. He was also on the verge of getting the breaks he needed to climb again to his star status, until the curse bequeathed him by fate at birth struck again.

Child campaigner[edit]

Once the court case was out of the way Cullen dedicated himself to campaigning against child pornography, and to trying to bring his abusers to justice.[7] Of the three men he named as his principal abusers one, Francis Currens, was jailed during Cullen's lifetime; one, Cullen's uncle Jack Williams, was jailed after his death (both of them for a catalogue of offences including the repeated rape of young boys);[8] and as of summer 2006 one, whom Cullen named as the ringleader, has never been prosecuted.

Cullen's arrest in 1993, followed by a long drawn-out police investigation and the persecution by the press, destabilised his mental defences leaving him suicidal for many months. As soon as his prison sentence had been quashed on appeal, he began to be offered acting parts again, but he was still too ill with severe Posttraumatic stress disorder to resume work.


Only a day or two before his fatal heart attack, which followed on from surgery for a twisted bowel, he had been asked to take up the role of Wee Burney again. He was however in two minds as to whether to resume his acting career or become a Clinical Psychologist specialising in the treatment of abuse victims; he already had a BA in psychology, and had been accepted to begin a more advanced course in Forensic Psychology that autumn.[9]

Acting career[edit]


  1. ^ Saturday 17 August 1996 (1996-08-17). "Double curse on tragic life . Actor Eric Cullen's illegitimacy and his size tormented him throughout his career". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2013-11-24. 
  2. ^ Saturday 17 August 1996 (1996-08-17). "Double curse on tragic life . Actor Eric Cullen's illegitimacy and his size tormented him throughout his career". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2013-11-24. 
  3. ^ Anthony Hayward (1996-08-17). "Obituary:Eric Cullen - Obituaries - News". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-24. 
  4. ^ Anthony Hayward (1996-08-17). "Obituary:Eric Cullen - Obituaries - News". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-24. 
  5. ^ Anthony Hayward (1996-08-17). "Obituary:Eric Cullen - Obituaries - News". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-24. 
  6. ^ Friday 30 June 1995 (1995-06-30). "''I know what it is to scream for mercy but never to receive any''". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2013-11-24. 
  7. ^ "More sinned against than sinner". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  8. ^ "Wee Burney's uncle awaits sentence after pleading guilty to assaults on three boys Sex crimes admission". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2013-11-25. 
  9. ^ Anthony Hayward (1996-08-17). "Obituary:Eric Cullen - Obituaries - News". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-11-24. 

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