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. When he was arrested in 1993 for possession of child pornography the media outcry following his arrest effectively ended his acting career. Although the prosecution accepted that Cullen was storing the material under the duress of his abusers, he was nevertheless sent to prison, although he was released after fifteen days pending his subsequent successful appeal against sentence.
Cullen died in 1996 from complications following surgery to correct a bowel abnormality.
Although many Scottish newspapers assumed that Cullen was a paedophile himself, and in fact continued to hound him throughout his life and even after death, he was treated for nineteen months by psychiatrist Dr Prem Misra, one of the UK's leading experts on child abusers and abuse survivors, and Dr Misra has stated publicly that Eric Cullen showed no trace of any perversion whatsoever, and that he is absolutely certain that he was only ever a victim of abuse and not an abuser himself. Cullen worked with children all his adult life, including a spell as a primary school teacher, and the police could find no child with even the slightest complaint against him.
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. 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); and as at summer 2006 one, whom Cullen named as the ringleader, has never been prosecuted - or even seriously investigated.
Cullen's arrest in 1993, followed by a long drawn-out police investigation and the persecution by the press, destabilised the mental defences which he had used to cope with the abuse, and he suffered two acute mental breakdowns, and was 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 Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome to resume work at that stage.
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.
At his funeral, the people of Hamilton packed a large church to overflowing and lined the streets for a hundred yards, as if he were royalty, and even the funeral director wept to see him die "so young, and so much loved."