When BBC Radio London contacted her, Laura decided it would be the best course of action. She could reach a wide audience, who would push for change. Even if it didn’t help her mum, it could still help others in the same position.
True to her last words, Laura hadn’t visited her mum in two months. It wasn’t just her blind pious towards her father. That had always been there. She wouldn’t take Buddy. Something Tabitha had given up, even when it was the last thing she tucked in at night. There was no saving her mum – Laura knew that now. Tabitha was the most important person in her life. She wouldn’t throw her childhood away to beg her mum to see sense.
But at least others could be saved.
She wanted to tell her that her Nanny was dead. That she had never loved them. How could someone defend the person they killed? Accept that she should be in prison for ten years. For what? Defending herself from what was probably the last thing she ever saw. No, enough was enough. She couldn’t do it anymore. Her mum could defend Thomas, but she wouldn’t be there to hear it.
Laura couldn’t take her eyes of the woman, who was presenting the show, and tried to steady her nerves by drinking more water than she should. She adjusted her earphones and wrapped the wire around her knuckles to stop her hands from shaking. As the presenter, Carol Parker, started to address the audience, Laura breathed out all her nerves.
‘The show today will deal with the trial that has been on everyone’s lips. Martha Whitman has been sent to prison for ten years for the manslaughter of her husband. We are here today to discuss whether she deserved to go to prison, and whether domestic violence was the catalyst to the killing. Here today I have Martha Whitman’s daughter, Laura, and leading psychologist Sheila Fleming, who will also give her insight on domestic violence.
‘Good morning,’ Laura said.
‘Good morning,’ Sheila said, and smiled across at Laura.
‘First of all, thank you for agreeing to come on my show to talk about your experiences with your father, it must be an extremely difficult topic for you to talk about.’
The countdown noted, Laura blinked away her fear. ‘It is, but I’m done keeping secrets.’
‘How do you feel about the ten year sentence your mum got for killing your father?’
‘She doesn’t deserve to spend a day in prison. Thomas was a monster, and he caused his own death by treating my mum the way he did.’
‘Do you believe that your mum doesn’t remember her actions that day?’
‘Mum doesn’t remember, I know that for a fact, but she still blames herself even though she suffered bouts of violence throughout her marriage. My father made her life a living hell and it’s no surprise to me that she just snapped.’
‘Laura, can you tell me about your experience of your father while you lived at home?’
Just thinking about her mum spending, what could be, the rest of her life in prison was enough motive to be honest. It didn’t matter that her private life was no longer private.
It was the price they had to pay to prevent it happening again.
‘When I was young, his violence towards Mum was all I knew but once I started school, I began to realise how different my life was to the other children.’
‘What caused you to think like that?’
‘When I saw my friends and how they were with their dads – so happy – when I was four, I knew I hated mine.’
‘What caused you to hate your father at such a young age?’
‘I drew a picture once and he threw it in the bin. I thought it was my fault my daddy didn’t love me,’ Laura said, thinking of the only time she had wanted to try. ‘He told me it was nothing but worthless trash. I gave up after that.’
‘That must have been horrible for you.’
Sheila covered Laura’s hand in hers. ‘You’re doing really well.’
‘Mum was always apologising for something she hadn’t done and the walls in our house were paper thin. I could hear everything that happened. Once I wanted to go to the toilet, I heard my mum whimper. I went to see if I could help. My father had her pinned down to the bed by his arms.’
‘How old were you when that happened?’
‘I had just started year one, so I was about five years old.’
‘It must have been upsetting for someone so young,’ the radio presenter said.
‘I didn’t realise what happened and Mum gave a weak excuse,’ Laura said, trying to erase the memory from her thoughts.
‘Why do you think your father rarely showed his violence towards you?’
Instantly, Laura had an answer ready. ‘Mum made sure I was out of the way when my father was in one of his moods and I was in bed by the time he came home from work.’
‘What about the holidays and when your father was at home?’
‘I had to stay in my bedroom most of the time. Mum would sometimes join me and read to me, but we had to be quiet.’
‘Did you never have any relationship with your father?’
‘None. I hated him and still do. Mum tried her best to help me forget what was going on, but as I got older it became more difficult to ignore. I wanted to run away but didn’t want to leave Mum on her own.’
‘Can you tell the listeners a little bit more about your mum?’
‘She has always made me feel loved. Mum was always making excuses for his behaviour and tried to create a happy family home, but my father always found a way to put her in her place. She wouldn’t tell me about his violence, but I was aware that something was wrong with the way he behaved.’
‘How often did the violence erupt in the home?’
‘At least twice a week.’ Laura closed her eyes, memories beating into her fragile thoughts. ‘I still remember the silence – the screams I could deal with, the silence not so much – I think I was afraid that he finally killed Mum and was coming for me next.’ Laura’s voice trembled. ‘When Mum finally joined me in my bedroom, she just came out with the same excuses.’
‘Did you not think about talking to a teacher?’
‘Once, but Mum was an expert at covering up his failings.’
‘Did your mum have to go to hospital to get treated?’
‘Mum only went to hospital if there was a serious injury that needed treatment.’
Carol delved deeper. ‘In a year how many times?’
Laura held on tightly to her earphones, trying to blot out the ringing in her ears. ‘At least three times a year, but Mum didn’t like going.’
‘Why do you think that was?’
‘They would ask how it happened and then wouldn’t believe her excuses.’
The presenter lowered her tone. ‘It must have been difficult for both of you.’
‘It was, but mostly for Mum. She shielded me from his outbursts, apart from the time he killed my baby. It was then I had to leave before mum’s excuses became my own.’
‘Your dad was responsible for the loss of your baby?’
It was easy to accept Sheila’s comfort and it urged her to carry on.
‘He called me some disgusting names and then he pushed me.’ Laura’s hand hovered over the empty space in her womb. ‘I vowed I would never stay in that house again. I tried my best to get Mum to join me, but she just kept repeating he was sorry for what he had done. He wasn’t sorry. He meant to kill my baby that day.’
‘Did he know that he had caused you to have a miscarriage?’
‘I don’t think Mum would have told him, but he must have known, after all it wasn’t the first time. It was only at the trial, I found out my brother was killed in the same way.’
‘Do you think your mum had a choice in killing your father?’
‘He was about to kill her, I’m sure of it. The trouble is Mum still thinks it is her fault, but it wasn’t. My so-called father was to blame for his death, nobody else.’
Laura felt the energy drain from her body.
‘Thank you, Laura, you have been very courageous in coming here today.’
‘We will now hear from Sheila Fleming. Please can you tell the viewers about your findings on domestic violence?’
‘I have studied many cases of domestic violence and more specifically the victims. Over a long-term period, they have an attachment to their abuser and believe the abuse is their fault. Also, systematic abuse, over many years causes the person to be compliant, striving for a perfection that just isn’t there.’
‘To the outside world, Mum’s home was perfect,’ Laura whispered.
‘In Martha’s case, she killed her husband. Is it possible she had no memory of the event – as she told the jury in the trial?’
‘Yes. It is called “Battered Woman Syndrome”. It’s like post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers. They suffer tremendous trauma over a period of years and just snap – a moment in time, where they fight back. Often, they have no recollection of what they have done and have real remorse for their actions.’
‘And you believe that Martha is suffering from Battered Woman Syndrome?’
‘There is no doubt in my mind.’
It was now the turn of the audience to ring in.
‘Why didn’t she leave him?’ Michael, from Edinburgh asked. ‘She didn’t need to kill him surely?’
Laura stood her ground. ‘She believed his excuses that he would change.’
Another caller fired a question. ‘Didn’t she have a choice; there are many women’s refuges?’
‘Mum was scared he would find her and drag her back,’ Laura said. ‘She would sometimes go to her friend’s home, but he would always find a way to bring us back.’
‘That is true,’ the psychologist interceded. ‘You have to remember, that for Martha, the violence was all that she knew.’
The last call of the afternoon brought silence to the room. A woman, who refused to give her name, had her own story to tell.
‘I just had to ring in.’
‘You told my researcher that you are also a victim?’
‘I’ve been married for five years, and my daughter is two years old. Up until today I have given the same excuses as Martha. I thought he would change his ways. I was pushed down the stairs last week, and I had to lie to my daughter. I thought I was protecting her, but I can see that I was only lying to myself. I want to leave him before he kills me – or worse hurts our daughter, but I’m scared of what he might do.’
Laura felt empowered. ‘Don’t be scared, I know it’s hard, but think of your daughter. You can’t change him, but you can change how you think. None of this is your fault.’
‘I could just try harder to make him change.’
‘You’ve done your best, but he will still do his worst. Please believe me, for the sake of your daughter, leave him now!’
‘Where would I go? I’ve no money.’
‘A women’s refuge is always a good place to start,’ Sheila Fleming said. ‘If you ring 0808 2000 247, they will find a place local to you.’
‘What if he finds me?’
‘Do you want your daughter to see what is happening to you?’ Laura said. ‘Mum thought she protected me from the violence, but I saw and heard everything. Just because your daughter isn’t young enough to go to school, doesn’t mean she isn’t old enough to hear.’
A muffled sob could be heard, and Laura wasn’t about to give up. ‘I know that you are scared, but I have to take anti-depressants because of what happened to me as a child. I was lucky in a lot of ways. I was able to leave home before Thomas did the same thing to me, but it is something I will never recover from.’
It was at that point that the psychologist gave Laura her card.