THE final curtain has fallen on Eric Cullen and the truth of his involvement in child indecency goes with him to the grave.

He was a skilled actor, so those of us who came to know him well during the time of his public torture were never 100% certain whether the story he told with such heart-rending sincerity was the unvarnished truth, or some of the truth with a bit of imaginative self-justification thrown in.

He had, however, a gift of inspiring fierce loyalty among those who were utterly convinced. Good examples are broadcaster Bill McFarlan, who stood to lose a lot in terms of image by being associated with a man whose reputation was under such concerted attack by the police and legal authorities, and journalist Dorothy-Grace Elder.

Along with others in their circle, they stuck by Cullen through thick and thin, certain in their conviction that he was a victim, first of evil pederasts and then of a misguided police and prosecution service acting from suspect motives.

Cullen was doubly cursed from birth. He was born illegitimate in Stranraer, suffering the small-town stigma associated with that, and he was born achondroplasiac - a dwarf. He was never able to get from his natural mother the truth of why he was given away for adoption, a question which tormented him all his life.

A reunion with his natural mother, who had been tracked down by a tabloid newspaper after Cullen achieved fame, turned out to be a humiliating sideshow which left him even more confused and depressed.

He had broken into showbusiness after producing and directing shows for schools, first with the television show for children, Wemyss Bay 902101, and then with Rab C.Nesbitt.

Cullen, who appearing at many charity events, always spoke of his deep love for his adoptive parents. No child, he told me, could have been afforded greater affection or care. That feeling did not, however, extend to one of his adoptive relatives who, according to Cullen, first sexually assaulted him when he was 13 after gaining his trust and then continued to abuse him for 10 years.

Trapped in his diminutive body, he said he was unable to fight back and, like many children in the same situation, consumed by guilt and terror, unable to tell anyone. His childhood and youth became a living nightmare.

The man who first perverted him then passed Cullen on to his paedophile circle, which included the depraved Francis Currens. 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 homosexual pornography involving children was not his but that Currens had forced him to keep it.

That always had a ring of truth since homosexual 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 is now serving a 14-year sentence in Peterhead prison.

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.