Betrayed by Mummy

My sister protected a monster instead of her baby girl...

Published by: Laura Hinton and Sharon Ward
Published on: 27 September 2012

Dipping the brush into the pink nail varnish, I leant across and painted my four-year-old niece's toenails. Emma loved all things glittery and pink. While I painted, she lay on her bed watching Dora The Explorer, her favourite cartoon.
Downstairs, I could hear her sisters Caroline, six, and Elizabeth, 11. They were still playing a game of teachers with my daughter Lillie, seven. They'd been at it all morning, calling the register and challenging each other to drawing competitions.
Earlier, Emma had been one of their ‘pupils', but then she'd felt sick and come upstairs.
‘You can be the teacher when you're more grown up,' Lillie had told her. They were so sweet.
Putting the lid on the nail varnish, I felt Emma's forehead. She was hot and clammy. ‘Do you still feel poorly?' I asked her.
‘Yes,' she sniffed.
I'd always felt particularly close to Emma, my sister Abbey's youngest. It was probably because she'd been born premature, weighing just 5lb.
She'd been in intensive care for three weeks but, after her shaky start, she'd thrived.
‘I'm a bit worried about Emma,' I admitted to Abbey, moments later.
She was on the sofa with her new boyfriend Lucas. He was doing the school register for the girls, and they were all laughing as he pranced about.
‘She looks really ill,' I worried. ‘And she was only poorly a few weeks ago...'
‘I'll take her to the doctors again,' Abbey said. ‘I'm sure it's just a tummy bug.'
‘You know me,'I chuckled. ‘I worry too much. You're the nurse after all!'
I'd always looked up to Abbey. She was my big sister by three years, and she'd really stepped up when our dad, Solon, 44, died when I was 13.
‘It'll be okay,' she'd hugged me. ‘We'll stick together.'
Our mum Margie, 41, had needed to go back to work, so Abbey had become like a second mother. She'd got me up for school every morning, made sure I did my homework and just kept me strong. Then, after passing college with flying colours, she'd gone on to forge a successful career as a midwife.
Everything had always worked out for Abbey. So it'd been a shock to hear her marriage of nine years hadn't worked out.
A couple of months later though, she'd met Lucas, who'd recently moved in. It'd been a bit of a whirlwind, but he seemed nice enough. He was a bit of a country boy, I suppose, similar to my hubby Robert, 35.
We didn't have time for all this play though, because right now, we needed to get a move on -
I was taking Lillie and Caroline to the NASA centre in Houston.
‘Bye Emma!' I shouted up the stairs before we left.
‘I loves you very much,' she called back. It was how she always said goodbye to me.
A couple of days later, I rang Abbey to see how Emma was.
‘She's much better,' she told me. ‘The doctor said she's fine.'
‘Oh good,' I smiled. ‘I'll see you all soon.' But a week later, I was cooking dinner when the phone rang. It was Lucas.
‘Your sister's taken Emma to the hospital,' was all he said. ‘It doesn't look good.'
Me, Robert and Lillie jumped in the car straight away. We were halfway there when Abbey rang my mobile.
‘Emma's dead,' she blurted. For a second, I didn't think I'd heard her properly.
‘What?!' I gasped, my breath catching in my throat.
‘She's... dead,' she said again.
When we got to the hospital, we were ushered into a private waiting room.
I threw myself at Abbey and wrapped my arms around her. I'd have to look after her now.
Stepping back, I saw she was dry-eyed. The shock hadn't hit her yet.
‘Emma fell off the toilet and cracked her head,' she told me, her eyes glassing over. ‘I washed her wound, then brought her here. Now... she's dead.'
‘Oh, Abbey,' I cried.
Before I could ask any more questions though, two police officers entered the room.
As Abbey answered their questions, the enormity of it all hit me and I had to run off to be sick. When I returned, Abbey was still being quizzed.
‘Oh no, Lucas doesn't live with me,' Abbey told the cops. ‘He just does odd jobs around the house sometimes.'
My mouth sprung open. Why was she lying?
A couple of hours later, we were both asked to go to the police station for questioning. I was ushered into a room with two detectives.
‘How well do you know Lucas?' one asked.
I shrugged. ‘They've only been together a couple of months,'
I said. ‘I think they met through Abbey's job as a nurse, but I only saw him a few times.'
I didn't know what Abbey was trying to cover up, but I didn't have the strength to be anything but honest.
‘There's a lot of unexplained bruising and trauma to Emma's body,' the detective went on. A shiver shot
up my spine.
‘What are you suggesting?' I whispered.
‘We're just trying to establish all the facts,' he said. ‘We've done the autopsy, and something isn't adding up.'
My chest tightened. ‘Let me see the pictures,' I croaked.
‘They're shocking,' he warned me. ‘Prepare yourself...'
But I didn't care. I needed to see Emma.
As the detective slid the images across the table though, I jumped back. ‘No!' I wept. Emma was lying lifeless on the operating table. She was covered head-to-toe in bruises, some fresh and black, others faded with a yellow tinge.
‘Oh my god,' I gulped. It was horrific. Emma had been beaten to death.
‘But Abbey said she'd given Emma a bath before they came to the hospital,' I told the officer. ‘She would have seen this?'
All of a sudden, I noticed Emma's pink toenails. I'd painted them just weeks before.
‘My poor baby,' I whispered. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing and hearing.
My loving sister, a nurse with years of experience, hadn't thought these injuries were serious enough to call an ambulance straight away?
It didn't make sense. Abbey was a great mum to her girls, as she was a great auntie to my Lillie. She'd even been there when I'd given birth. So how had this loving mum allowed her daughter to receive the horrific injuries I'd just seen? They certainly hadn't been caused by a fall from the toilet.
Fury pulsed through me. Jumping up, I went outside and found Abbey waiting in the corridor. ‘Why didn't you call the emergency services?' I cried.
I knew she'd just lost her daughter, but my blood was boiling. I needed answers.
‘Please tell the police what happened,' I begged.
But she just hung her head. At that moment, I despised her. Turning on my heels, I fled.
‘There's so much more to this,' I sobbed to Robert. ‘Lucas was involved, I'm sure of it.'
And as much as it hurt me to say it, I knew my sister was, too.
‘We can't be sure of anything yet,' Robert said, wrapping his arms around me.
The police seemed to think the same thing as me, though. Soon, Caroline and Elizabeth had been put into temporary care as they continued their investigations.
I didn't - couldn't - speak to Abbey. I'd always looked up to her, now I hated her. She'd let all this happen, I just knew it...
How I got through the next few weeks, I don't know. I just focused on Emma's funeral. Tellingly, Abbey stayed away. Guilt must have got the better of her.
‘We'll make sure she gets justice,' Robert told me, as the tiny coffin went past.
‘I loves you very much, Emma,' I whispered under my breath, echoing the last words she'd ever spoken to me.
Two months after Emma's death, the police told us Abbey and Lucas had been arrested.
They believed Lucas had beaten Emma, and that he'd probably done it in the past.
They thought Abbey had turned a blind eye.
‘Would you give evidence against your sister?' the police said one day. ‘I know it's a lot to ask...' But I didn't hesitate. I said yes.
Emma's mother hadn't defended her while she was alive, but I'd do it now in her memory.
As we waited for the trial, I couldn't help but blame myself for what had happened. Should I have picked up the signs of abuse?
‘You trusted Abbey,' Robert reassured me. ‘Not only was she your sister but a highly trained nurse.'
‘I know,' I croaked. ‘I just wish I could have stopped this...'
Finally, the court case rolled round. When I saw Abbey again, I felt so empty.
As I took to the stand, she glared at me, her eyes full of hatred. But I wasn't betraying her. She'd betrayed her daughter - I was getting justice for Emma.
‘As a mother, she bathed Emma and dressed her,' I said, trying to keep my voice steady. ‘She would have known.'
But if I thought I'd heard the worst, I was wrong.
Listening to the evidence, we heard how Abbey had admitted to washing Emma in the bath after her ‘fall'.
Then, she'd taken the time to bleach the bathroom before driving Emma to hospital. That meant all the DNA evidence was washed away. Why? What was she hiding?
In hospital, Emma was found to have 80 bruises on her body. The beating that killed her had severed her pancreas and fractured her skull. There was also evidence to suggest she'd been raped.
‘Dear god,' I choked. I broke down then when I pictured my niece's final moments. She must've been so scared.
Later, we heard how Lucas had been facing a pending and unrelated child abuse charge when they'd got together. I wanted to be sick.
My sister, Abigail Young, 37, was found guilty of reckless serious bodily injury of a child by omission.
‘It means she knew what was happening, yet did nothing,'
I told Robert.
As Abbey's sentence was read out - 20 years, without the possibility of parole for at least five - her knees buckled beneath her. She started weeping, but I felt nothing. It was all an act.
Lucas Cole, 30, was jailed for life. He'd never be free.
Now, three years have passed, but the wounds will never heal.
Caroline, nine, and Elizabeth, 14, live with their dad Ben, 38. I see them regularly and they're doing well. But unfortunately, Abbey has gained what the courts call ‘good time credits.'
This means she can already apply for parole - which goes against her original sentence - but so far, it has been denied for at least a year.
I believe she should stay behind bars, though.
I'll never understand the choices she made as a mother, which is why I've set up a petition to make sure she stays in prison. Abbey may be my sister, but I think she should be held accountable for her actions and pay the price.
I'm not just doing it for Emma, though, I'm doing it for all the other innocent children out there whose mothers fail to protect them.
Amanda Matthews, 34, San Leon, Texas, USA