Domestic violence trainer Anne lost her own mother to a knife in the hands of a controlling, manipulative man – her father. She talks to Natalie Valios about the effect this has had on her life and how she, too, fell into a similar trap
Anne* will never forget 15 April 1979. It is the day her father killed her mother. Just 10 at the time, Anne recalls how the day unfolded: “I was in a dance troupe and we had been to Wales for a competition. It was the first time I’d been away from mum and dad for a whole day. I was feeling happy and looking forward to showing them the medals I had won. But when neither mum nor dad were there to meet me off the coach I knew something was wrong. One of the other mothers walked me home and as we turned into my street I saw blue flashing lights.
“I went to the drive and a police officer said ‘there’s nothing to see, go back to your parents’. I said I lived there and she panicked because my mum was still in the garden and dad was in the house with the police. They passed me to a next-door neighbour and wouldn’t tell me anything.”
Taken by her uncle to her grandparents’ house, she was sent straight to bed with her younger brother Mark,* and told nothing for 24 hours. Mark had been asleep at the time his mother was killed, after being put to bed early, and to this day says he knows nothing of what happened. Anne was eventually told the chain of events: her mother had gone to her sister’s saying she was leaving her husband. When he phoned to say they needed to talk, she went back to the house and was stabbed to death in the garden.
“All my dad said was that it all happened so fast and he couldn’t remember what had happened. The autopsy said the knife had been stabbed through her heart, pulled back and twisted. Dad called my grandad saying ‘I’ve just knifed your daughter’. He called the police and my uncle. My uncle arrived first, dad told him she was in the garden and he was shocked to find her dead.”
Her father received an 18-month sentence for manslaughter, which her grandparents struggled to cope with as they believed their daughter’s death was premeditated. Her grandparents played an important part in her childhood – in fact, her only happy memories involve them and her aunties, holidaying in caravans every year.
While these are clear memories, “time at home is a blur”, she says now. A blur of anxious days and sleepless nights, where from a young age she was aware of being woken regularly at 11.30pm by her parents shouting at each other when her dad came home from the pub. Her brother suffered nightmares and wet the bed every night.
“I was never happy in that house, I always felt like something was going on, but mum and dad hid it well from us. When we were around they would ignore each other or snap at each other and sometimes fight.”
Though Anne picked up on the sinister undercurrent in the house, she was never completely aware of what was going on because the abuse was more psychological through controlling and bullying than physical. However, physical aggression was part of the equation, with her father often spending Saturday afternoons, as he called it, “playfighting” with her mother. “He’d be wrestling my mum on the floor and she’d be trying to get away from him. Mark and I used to side with him because he always won and mum would go to the bedroom crying. Then he would tickle us and make us laugh and say ‘daddy is the strongest’.”
Anne is only aware of one time when her mother tried to escape, when she was about six. “She turned up in a taxi at my grandparents’ house at 2am saying she couldn’t take anymore. But grandad sent her back saying that all marriages have ups and downs. He regretted that.”
What hurts Anne about this episode is that while her mother fled with Mark, she left Anne behind with her father. “Rationalising it as an adult, I think she thought he’d never hurt me because I was a daddy’s girl.”
Things deteriorated further when her mother took a job in a factory and began making friends and becoming more confident. “She started to go out once a week and he didn’t like that so there were lots of rows. [I learned later that] she met a man and started to have an affair.
“I remember my grandparents’ wedding anniversary. Lots of people were invited and he came as a friend of neighbours and mum introduced me to him. He ruffled my hair and said he’d heard a lot about me. I thought it was odd. It wasn’t long after that it happened.”
While their father was in prison Anne and Mark lived with their grandparents. Her nan told Anne to tell children at her new school that her mum had died of cancer and her father worked abroad. But problems arose when friends’ parents would ask questions about her father that she couldn’t answer. She stopped going to their houses.
“I couldn’t tell nan and grandad because they were hooked on valium, drinking whisky and crying daily.”
The siblings then faced another upheaval. Their father made it clear he wanted them to live with him when he was released. When he started having weekend releases as preparation, Anne’s grandparents couldn’t bear the fact that he could arrive at their front door to pick his children up, so they had to live with their dad’s sister, despite not knowing her well. They lived with her for eight months, by which time Anne couldn’t wait for her father to get out “and we could try to be a normal family, even though I didn’t know what that was”.
Given the circumstances, it might be hard to believe that Anne wanted to live with her father. But she explains: “I didn’t have a good relationship with my mum because she was unhappy and seemed more bothered about the state of the house than about me. The emotional bond wasn’t there. But my dad would tickle me and make me laugh. And I overheard conversations from family members that mum had an affair, so in a way I understood. And it was about a sense of belonging because I didn’t belong at my auntie’s.
“Half of me wanted this perfect fairy tale relationship with my father but then half of me thought when he smiled at me ‘you are the man who killed my mother’.”
Unsurprisingly, the longed-for happy childhood failed to materialise when they went to live with their father. He would go on drink binges, leaving Anne to look after her brother. On top of this, she was frightened of the house they were living in and believed her mother was haunting it. “I thought she was angry that I was living with my dad.”
He soon met another woman and within six weeks she’d moved in with four children. That lasted a few weeks before she left abruptly, leaving Anne devastated. When she asked the woman why she’d left she said: “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
Just weeks later her father met another woman and they quickly married. Anne disliked her and left home at 19. Promiscuity, drinking binges and glue-sniffing followed until she had her first child 18 years ago. But becoming a mother herself opened up a whole new emotional can of worms for Anne to contend with.
“I remember holding him and crying because mum wasn’t alive to see him. I found it difficult to handle becoming a mother. I kept thinking ‘am I going to be killed or controlled?’, ‘should I be bonding with my child?’ or ‘am I bonding?’. There were times I thought I couldn’t be a mum.”
She suffered from depression for the next 18 months, during which time she met a man 17 years older than her whom she later married. The fact that he said her father should be invited to their wedding, even though this meant her mother’s family wouldn’t attend, could have rung alarm bells. But Anne says it took her 13 years to realise that she’d fallen into a similar trap as her mother, married to a manipulative and controlling man.
The only happiness she had in the marriage was having a daughter. A year after they separated she met her current partner. “He’s a good man. I’d got to the stage where I wondered if there was such a thing. And he doesn’t like my dad at all.”
Meanwhile Anne completed an early years diploma, worked with children in care and homeless teenagers, before becoming a domestic violence officer for a housing association. Currently she runs domestic abuse training courses, though rarely talks about her own story.
A move away from the area lasted four years but she has since returned to her home village. Both her brother and father still live nearby. But although she is within walking distance of Mark, they rarely see each other. “We are the only ones who can understand what it’s like, but [seeing each other] it’s a reminder of what we have been through and you bring each other down.”
As for her father, he will turn up at her house for a few minutes every so often. But last year Anne took a stand and told him she didn’t want him to come anymore. It was a long time before she realised that she was struggling with post traumatic stress disorder and seeing him worsened the condition.
Sadly he has ignored her request. But she remains in the village partly because her partner is also from there “and this is where I grew up and these are people I know”.
She often feels drawn to the house where “it” happened, as she refers to that horrific day, and will drive to where she can see it.
Most importantly by staying in the village, she says, “I feel I’m living where my mum wanted and I feel closer to her here.”
* Names have been changed
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This article appeared in the 22 May issue under the headline “Dad called it playfighting. It wasn’t”