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Alison - Interview 23

Age at interview: 37
Brief Outline: In 2007 Alison's husband and two of her young children died in their own home. Alison believes that her husband murdered her children and then set fire to the house. He also died. It has been a terrible time.
Background: Alison is self-employed. She is single and has 4 children (2 died). Ethnic background/nationality: White British

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On 31st May 2007 Alison had a huge row with her husband. He made her leave the house. She was worried about the children but her father was there too and he assured her that everything would be alright. Alison went to stay with her sister. She was still very upset and worried about the children. She did not want the children to see that she had been beaten up by her husband. The next day she went to her parents’ house, but was angry to find that two of her three children were still with her husband in their own home. They were aged seven and four at the time.
 
In the middle of the night Alison’s parents got a phone call to say that Alison’s house was on fire. No one knew whether or not the children were inside the house. Alison left her youngest child with her mother and drove back to her home town. There she found the house on fire and fire engines, ambulances and police officers everywhere.
 
Police officers told her that they had found a dead man and a dead child in the house and that another child had been taken to hospital. They refused to give Alison any more details and they sent her to the local pub to wait for news.
 
Eventually Alison called the hospital and discovered that her son had died too. She was very upset and angry, and having been drinking whisky, assaulted a policeman. She was locked up in a police cell until she was sober. Then she was assessed by psychiatrists, who said that she could go home. However, first of all she had to give an interview to the police and she had to make a statement.
 
Alison drove to her parents’ house, to be with her sister, her father, her mother and her other child. They were all devastated by what had happened. Alison found it hard to sleep. For ten days they were not allowed to be alone with the youngest child. The police were trying to find out why the house had caught fire and who was responsible for the deaths. Two police liaison officers called frequently to give Alison information and to continue their investigations.
 
The children’s funeral was held a month after they died. It was a small private funeral because Alison did not want any media attention. News reporters had written many inaccurate and hurtful articles about what they thought had happened.
 
At times Alison can’t help thinking about what happened on the night of the fire and about the fear and pain her children must have experienced. These feelings come to the surface at certain times, such as just before various anniversaries. At times Alison feels quite depressed, so after about a year she started an anti-depressant medicine called Cipralex. This medicine has been helpful. Alison sometimes feels isolated too. Some friends have been wonderful but others don’t know what to say or keep away.
 
The GP offered Alison some specialised NHS counselling, with someone trained to look after those affected by trauma, but she had to wait until September before she could have an interview to see if she qualified for counselling. She did not get her first counselling session until two and a half months after that. While Alison was waiting for professional counselling she met a CRUSE counsellor but she did not like what was said, so she did not have any more sessions. Alison did not like the professional NHS counsellor either, because the person did not seem to be well prepared and did not know the names of her children. She decided that she did not want any more counselling sessions.
 
Alison was not sure what to tell her two year old son. She received advice from the support group, Jeremiah’s Journey. She told her son that the other children had died in a fire and she talks about them whenever he wants to talk about them.
 
Since the tragedy Alison has found most help via her family, friends and GP. She has also got involved with the support group Support after Murder and Manslaughter SAMM. She is now a trustee. She has also made some friends via the Child Bereavement Charity.
 
Before the inquest the coroner’s officer allowed Alison to see the complete file. She went to the police station to see the file and she asked one of her police liaison officers to go with her in case she had a bad reaction to what she read. The documents were distressing but Alison wanted to be prepared for what she might hear at the inquest.
 
Alison is very angry that she has had to wait so long for the inquest. It took place in April 2009. At the inquest Alison discovered that her husband had not had any alcohol in his blood when he killed the children. The coroner ruled that when Alison’s daughter died she was so badly “fire damaged” that cause of death could not be determined, but that she did not inhale any fumes so she was dead before the fire started. The coroner also ruled that Alison’s son was unlawfully killed. He survived a knife attack and strangulation, but died in the fire fumes. Alison has been told that had her husband lived he would have been charged with two counts of murder.
 
Alison obtained an interim death certificate for all the practical things she had to sort out. She found a solicitor to help her with matters such as the mortgage on the house and obtaining compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).
 
Now Alison still misses the children terribly. She takes one day at a time. She has online memorial sites for them, on “In Memory of” and GonetooSoon and is glad when others remember the children and write messages or light candles. After the children died she arranged a “fun day” for the local children who had known her children. This was held in the rugby club grounds. Her son’s school also held a service for the children, and has designed and built a lovely garden, which has a theme of rainbows, butterflies and sunflowers.
 
Alison was interviewed in 2008.
 
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In the middle of the night Alison heard that the house where her children and estranged husband...

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And then my sister came in and said, “Mum’s on the phone, she’s got some good news for you, you’ve got the kids back”, which was a day earlier than had been arranged. And I thought, “Oh brilliant.” So I texted a friend of mine to say that I’d got the kids back and she was like, “Great”, who was actually my next door neighbour of that house. And got the train back that night, got in at half past ten. My dad picked me up from the train station and I noticed the car seats in the back, the baby seats in the back. And I said, “What’s happened?” And he said, “Your husband taken the kids home”. So I texted my sister very angry, saying “He’s got the kids.” And she texted me back saying, “Yes, for this night but then tomorrow you’ll have them back.”
 
Did you have two at that stage?
 
No, I had three children but two days previous my youngest had been taken rather ill and my mum decided to bring him back to stay with her and my dad.
 
So that they could look after him whilst they weren’t at my husband’s place.
 
So two were with your husband?
 
Yes. So my eldest two were still with my husband, and they’d gone back. So I got to bed about midnight that night which was the 3rd June 2007. About 15 minutes later the telephone rang and I jumped up because it’s very unusual for anyone to call so late.
 
And it was my next door neighbour. She said something to my dad, my dad shot out of bed, ran off. My mum started screaming about the children. I picked up the phone and she said, “Ali, your house is on fire.” And I said, you’ll have to excuse this but I said, “Well what the fuck are you calling me for, call the fire brigade.”
 
So my mum is continuously screaming, “The children the children.” I’m telling her to calm down, because my youngest is asleep in the front room.
 
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Alison has created pages on a website so that others can share memories, light candles and leave...

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I’ve got online memorial sites for them, which I find very helpful, although distressing when people don’t write something on there or light a virtual candle. I think they’re forgetting them. 
 
Is that on a particular site, like ‘Gone too soon’?
 
Yes.
 
Or something like that?
 
They’re on ‘Gone too soon’ but they’re also on ‘Memory of’ dot com. And that’s, that’s nice, you know. My mum and I are the ones mainly who post on there…
 
But every now and then some, for example my friends on their birthdays there’ll be a candle from them. And that means a lot. It is my horror that my kids will be forgotten.
 
Have you got any other memorial? You’ve got the online memorials. Did you have any memorial, at the churchyard?
 
Oh, at the school they, they attend, well, one attended and the other one was due to attend, they asked the kids what they wanted to do and they’ve they decided on the Rainbow Garden. 
 
Oh.
 
So the theme is rainbow, butterflies and sunflowers.
 
And the kids have designed the garden, we’ve raised loads of money for it. And it’s going to be an outdoor teaching area for them. It’s also a, a place for them to go and remember. And the kids do remember. 
 
That’s really nice.
 
You know, whenever I got here they’re all over me. They did a lovely service for them.
 
It was heartbreaking to see the, how much the kids were affected… 
 
 
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Alison was allowed to go to the police station to see the statements and other documents that had...

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Has a coroner’s officer come to talk to you at all? They usually talk to you about what’s going on?
 
I was told after chasing one particular coroner’s officer that as next of kin it was not my job to chase up the files. And I said, “I’m not next of kin. I’m their mother.”
 
But I did, she did grant me early, early disclosure, which she… [laughs] …she let me do two days before Christmas.
 
Does that mean she’s let you see something?
 
She’s let me see the complete file [prepared for the inquest].
 
Oh.
 
Yes. So I know. I said I have to see exactly what is in there because I still wasn’t clear on a few things. I had to see exactly what’s in there so when we go into that courtroom I’m ready. I don’t want to break down in front of everyone. I want to know now.
 
And I’m ready.
 
Is this a fairly new ruling?
 
No it’s, it’s not a ruling. It’s as I said it’s at their discretion. They don’t have to grant early disclosure. I’m considered a “properly interested party”, not their mum, but a “properly interested party”.
 
I also requested that they did my husband’s inquest at a different time to the children. But they won’t.
 
Oh. Did you have to go and look at all the files there, did you have to do it in their presence or could you take it away or did they send you copies?
 
No they wouldn’t send me copies. I had to go to the police station to view them there. A coroner’s officer was loitering in the background. And was busy telling me I didn’t need to see this, didn’t need to that.
 
Which I think had absolutely nothing to do with him.
 
No.
 
You know he’s not me. I’m sure there are some people who don’t need to but I do.
 
But what I did is I contacted the, the police officer who was running the case, I asked him could I have one of my FLO’s [family liaison officer’s] to accompany me, just in case I went off the rails a bit.
 
Which they did so.
 
That was good.
 
Yes. So she just came and she sat there whilst I read through. I had a bit of a sob. And I say, “I didn’t know about that.” And she said, “Sorry Alison.” And that’s you know, that’s it. And that’s all I needed. And I yep, bit of cry and came outside and I’m all right.
 
So now you know roughly what to expect when the inquest happens?
 
I do. 
 
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When Alison's other children died she asked Jeremiah's Journey for advice about what to tell her...

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I didn’t tell my youngest for a month that he had a baby sister because I was worried about her dying, and I didn’t want to have to explain again…
 
…Because I’d been very straight with my youngest.
 
How old was he at that stage?
 
Two and a half.
 
Quite tiny.
 
Yes. You know, we explained death, well, first of all we said they’d gone away and then we realised that was wrong.
 
And then we started saying, using the word they, they were dead. And we were told, you know, if you’re upset don’t go walking away, tell him why you’re upset. So I would say, you know, “Mummy’s upset because she misses the children”. . And he’d say, “Oh yes, and daddy.” And I’d, of course I’d have to say, “Yes, and daddy.”
 
What helped you prepare, who helped you with how you should tell your other child what had happened? Did you get any professional help?
 
The GP offered to book him in on Jeremiah’s Journey. And I said, “That’s great.” So they came out after a couple of weeks and had a quick chat with him and with me.
 
They’re childhood bereavement counsellors are they?
 
Yes.
 
And they just said, you know, “You do whatever’s right, that you feel is right.”
 
And I told them what I was doing. They said, “Yes that’s fine”. And slowly, bit by bit, he’s been getting more information. I never intend demonising his father, because it is his father, biological father.
 
And now he knows for example it was a fire … He doesn’t know that the rest of it.
 
He doesn’t know who did it, and he doesn’t know that it wasn’t just the fire.
 
And things like that. But, you know, it makes him aware and he says, you know, “Oh my brother and my sister and my daddy died in the fire.” He’s very matter of fact. And then he wants to go off and play with Scooby-Doo.
 
You know. But he rarely mentions them, but whenever he does I’ll ask him if he wants to talk about them.
 
And he doesn’t really want to. He’s not, he’s not, he just says, “Well I feel sad.”
 
And you say, “OK.” I mean, he was having some serious night terrors which concerned me. He was also coming back from school and saying, “Well I’m going to kill you.” And that was really, really hurting all of us.
 
But, call Jeremiah’s Journey, they were there the following day and they said, “Look, it’s perfectly natural his age, he’s going to hear it, you’re just more sensitive to it, don’t worry”. And, you know, he’s, he’s all right, he’s doing really, really well. As he keeps telling me, he’s very brave [laughs]. As he is [laughs].
 
Wonderful.
 
[Laughs] He is. Yeah. And he adores his little sister which…
 
That’s good.
 
…is good, yes.
 
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Alison went to her house, and then waited in the pub for news of her children. She did not know...

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And then I drove into the town, drove down to where my house was. There were lights everywhere… fire brigade, ambulance, police. I stopped the car in the middle of the road, jumped out, threw my keys at a police officer I saw. And two people came up walking over to me, one was a neighbour over the hedge and the other one was the landlord of the pub that I used to work in. And the look on their faces told me it weren’t good.
 
So two police officers came over and told me to sit down, which when they insist that you sit down, you know it’s not good news.
 
So I got really pissy with them and just said, “Just tell me.” And they said that they’d recovered a body of an adult male, deceased. I said, “Good.” And they’d recovered the body of a child who’s been taken to hospital. I said, “Boy or girl?” And they said, “We can’t tell you that at this time.” So I went mad and tried to get in the house. But they wouldn’t let me. They restrained me and sent me off down to the local pub. And I know now that I had a sort of family liaison type person to stay with me.
 
But I can tell you at that time I didn’t realise that there was anyone keeping an eye on me.
 
I went in the pub. They said that they would come down to tell me what was happening, who had you know which of my children had been taken in the ambulance … whether he was a she or a he or whether he was alive or dead or what.
 
Did you have friends with you?
 
Yes. I called my sister, told her to get in the car. And that one of them was dead but not to say anything to mum, not to call her on the phone until she gets there, tell her face-to-face.
 
But I couldn’t tell her which one. I then called the man I’d been seeing who was away on holiday, and said, “Can you please come home?”
 
And then, called my best friend from about age eight. But she didn’t answer either. I just left a message saying, “Come home,” because she lives up in London.
 
How did you react to that terrible news, I mean… you were sent to the pub?
 
I was pretty much okay because I was still very, very “that can’t be right”.
 
I was very, very mad that they couldn’t tell me boy or girl, because it was obvious to me.
 
They kept saying they would come down and update me but they never did. So eventually I called the hospital. And I said, “Look you’ve had a little, a child brought in that’s been in a house fire.” I said, “I don’t know if it’s my boy or my girl.”
 
And they said, “There was a little boy about six.” And I said, “He’s not six, he’s nearly fucking eight.”
 
And he said, “Who’s with you?” And they tell me this over the phone. They haven’t even asked for any like sort of ID or anything like that. “Who’s with you?” And I said, “He’s dead as well isn’t he?” And they said, “Yes I’m afraid he is.” So I got very annoyed again then that my daughter had died in the house. My boy had died.
 
I don’t know in the house, [if he] was revived and then taken. I didn’t know. And I was really, really, really annoyed that they just left me to it. That throughout all of this I’m drinking whisky because I know whisky is going to make me very violent really.

And so I have drunk a lot of whisky. And the next thing I know is I have … there’s a doctor walks through the door. And I realise they want to put me under or something, at which point I told him to get lost and he did.
 
He just walked out. And next thing my uncle, who happens to be in the clergy appeared.
 
And I looked up and I said, “Oh wow hello.” It was just all so surreal.
 
And I said, “You haven’t told your mum, have you?”, because she’s an old lady. And he said, “No.” I said, “Let her sleep tonight and tell her tomorrow.”
 
Then hours later, the police come in. The policeman comes in and wants to interview me about things. And I get the impression that he wants to tell me that my eldest has started the fire. So I got very, very angry. And then I’m told I have to go to the police station. At which point I say, “No, I want to see my husband dead. I want to make sure he’s dead.”
 
 
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Alison cried when the liaison officers left. She had first thought they were there to support her...

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Can you say a little bit about the role of the police liaison officer? You said did you have two, did you say?
 
Yes, yes. I had two. My mum and dad had two. Now I’ve since been made aware. I thought the family liaison officer was there to hold your hand.
 
That’s incorrect. They’re not there to hold your hand. They are there to get any information they can out of you. They’re highly trained investigators. And.
 
I thought they were meant to be sort of communication and …
 
Yes they’re, yes a communication link. But the idea is they get as much information out of you as possible.
 
About what you might know and not realise.
 
And things like that. So I was fairly content with my family [liaison officer]. I did cry after the ten days because you only get them for ten days. And when they said they were pulling out, I did cry because I thought, “Oh no.” They were in and out. Now it’s only ten days. But I think it was after the third day, they were coming in and giving me little bits of information.
 
And every time they gave me another little bit of information, it sent me rocketing. So eventually I said to them, “Do not come back here until you have the full story because I’m relatively ok. You come here, you tell something really horrendous and I can’t take it, so come back and give it to me all in one go.” 
 
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Alison had to wait months to see a counsellor who specialised in bereavement through trauma. The...

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Did he [the GP] offer psychological counselling or anything like that?
 
Yes, he [the GP] decided to put me in touch with people who deal with trauma counselling. And you’ll see from my notes, I think it was September I got my first one.
 
But it wasn’t my first counselling session; it was a two hour interview to see if I qualified for counselling.
 
Oh.
 
So it was June it happened in so, what’s that? June, July, August, September, so that’s, so it’s three months.
 
All that time?
 
To see if I qualified for counselling.
 
You had to wait all that time?
 
Hm.
 
This was organised by the National Health Service, was it paid for by the National Health Service?
 
Yes. And then I didn’t actually get my first counselling session till 2 ½ months after that.
 
Oh dear.
 
I was offered CRUSE bereavement, which I went to but I didn’t like it because she would say to me, “Oh, you, you’re so brave, it’s been so hard for you.” I don’t like that. I found it really irritating.  And then towards the end of the session, “I know how you feel”. Well, no you don’t actually. And then what happened to me was, was, “I’m sorry I’m not here for that I’m here for purely selfish reasons, for me.” So that’s it, I did two sessions with CRUSE and, and I couldn’t face it again because I didn’t want to hear about her problems.
 
No.
 
But then the, the trauma one…
 
This was special counselling…
 
Yes.
 
...a special, trained professional, trained to look after people who’ve gone through traumatic bereavement?
 
Yes. I think it would have been an idea if they came to the session after me already telling my life story, knowing the names of my children and where it happened and how it happened…
 
…that, that would have helped to start. But that didn’t happen so I immediately took a dislike to these people.
 
So you had to start all over again from…
 
Yes.
 
…the beginning.
 
But I didn’t bother then. You know, I figured I’d got this far, I don’t need them.
 
So you went to the one session, you, having waited two, two or three months to be assessed. Then you had to wait another two months to see somebody? And then you didn’t like it?
 
Yes.
 
So, that was the end of that?
 
Yes.
 
So, but you didn’t like it mainly because you felt she wasn’t prepared?
 
Yes. I think it’s very rude to come along and want me to talk about my children and then not even know their names.
 
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