From cradle to grave

Kayley's offer to help ended in heartbreak...

Published by: Jai Breitnauer & Sara Lain
Published on: 23rd June 2011

Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words. Whether good or bad news, your mouth turns to mush and you can’t express yourself.
Sitting opposite my cousin and best friend Kayley Boleyn, 19, I was having that trouble.
‘Is… everything okay?’ she frowned, as I bit my lip.
Trust her to read me like a book!
We’d been friends since childhood. She was a shoulder to cry on, someone to trust with my secrets – more of a sister than a cousin.
So, it was only right she’d be the first to find out the secret I was about to tell her…
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked, moving up the sofa towards me.
‘I-I’m pregnant!’ I blurted.
‘No way!’ she squealed, launching herself at me and giving me a massive hug.
‘I’m so excited, I couldn’t wait to tell you,’ I giggled.
It had been the same when I’d met my boyfriend John Lovell, 27. A giant bar of chocolate and bottle of wine between us, and I’d revealed all.
‘He’s got lovely blue eyes,’ I’d sighed. ‘I think I’m in love.’
Now, three months on, and I was going to have his baby.
‘This is amazing,’ babbled Kayley. ‘You’ll be a great mum.’
‘I really hope so,’ I smiled. ‘I want to give this baby everything.’
‘And Auntie Kayley will always be on hand to help,’ she beamed.
She stayed true to her word, too.
When Ryan was born, she was the first to visit me in hospital. And when my daughter Sarah arrived two years later, Kayley popped round regularly to help out.
Which was more than John did.
Sometimes I felt like he spent more time playing computer games than with the kids. I was starting to doubt he was the same man I’d met.
I confided in Kayley.
‘God, the arguments,’ I sobbed. ‘We’re tearing each other apart.’
‘You’ve got two young children, things are bound to be stressful,’ she reasoned. ‘Give it time.’
But things came to a head eight months after Sarah was born.
‘If you can’t do anything useful, you may as well go and live with your mum!’ I screamed.
‘Is that what you want?’ he snapped back.
‘I think that would be best,’ I sighed. ‘We haven’t been right for a while.’
John nodded, silently packed a bag, kissed the kids and left.
In tears, I reached for the phone – who else would I ring but Kayley?
‘I’ll be straight round,’ she promised. Half an hour later, we were sitting with a giant bar of chocolate and bottle of wine.
‘Last time we did this…’ I broke off. ‘I’m so stupid. How am I going to do this alone?’
Kayley took my hand.
‘You’re not alone,’ she soothed. ‘I’m here.’
Over the next few months she came over three times a week, helped with the housework, or played with the kids to give me a break. And they loved her, especially Ryan.
‘Is Auntie Kayley coming this afternoon?’ he’d grin. ‘I want to show her my new Thomas the Tank Engine book.’
Kayley had so much time for Ryan, kicking a ball with him in the garden or watching Bob the Builder. And when he and Sarah were napping, we’d have a gossip.
Sitting on the sofa one afternoon, I could tell she had something she wanted to say.
Nervously, she pulled a strand of her brown hair behind her ear.
‘I’ve… um… got a new boyfriend,’ she smiled shyly. ‘He’s called Chris Taylor, he’s 25, and he’s asked me to move in with him.’
‘No way!’ I gasped. ‘Bit quick, isn’t it?’
Kayley looked cagey.
‘Actually, we’ve been together a couple of months,’ she sighed. ‘But you’ve had so much on…’
‘Don’t be silly,’ I said. ‘When can I meet this Chris?’
‘Come over when I’m settled in,’ she grinned.
Over the next couple of weeks I didn’t see much of Kayley while she and Chris set up home, as I was busy trying to decorate my own place.
Ryan had begged me for a Thomas the Tank Engine themed bedroom – but it was near impossible with a one-year-old and three-year-old causing havoc.
‘I need a clear week to get the painting done,’ I sighed to Kayley when I next saw her. ‘I asked Mum, but she’s busy…’
‘I’ll have the kids,’ Kayley shrugged.
‘Oh, I don’t know…’ I stuttered. I wasn’t worried about leaving them with Kayley, but I’d never met Chris.
‘They’ll be fine,’ she smiled. ‘Plus, we’ve been talking about having kids – it’ll be good practise.’
‘Okay,’ I smiled, agreeing Ryan could stay there for two weeks. ‘Sarah’s still napping a lot, so I’ll be able to get plenty done.’
When I told Ryan, he was so excited. He packed his favourite Thomas the Tank Engine toys and, when I dropped him off, he and Chris hit it off straight away.
‘You like trains?’ Chris asked. ‘So do I – let’s build a track.’
Kayley called me every morning and evening to let me know how Ryan was, and I saw him at the park every other day – always smiling, his blue eyes sparkling.
I was making progress at home, too. I had the kitchen, bathroom and lounge redecorated by the end of the first week!
‘Now for Ryan’s room,’ I grinned to Sarah. ‘He’s going to love it!’
Over the next few days I ran around during Sarah’s naps, hanging Thomas the Tank Engine curtains and making Ryan’s new bed with the Bob the Builder bed set I’d bought. The door even had a tunnel with Thomas puffing out of it and I’d bought wall transfers, too.
‘We can do those together,’ I smiled, leaving them at the end of his bed the evening before I was due to collect him. Then, exhausted, I fell asleep.
Next morning I was up early, excited about bringing Ryan home.
Loading Sarah into her pram, I jumped on the bus. But, when I got to Kayley’s in Bilston, there was a note pinned to the door with my name on it.
I’d like to keep Ryan one more night, it read.
‘What?!’ I frowned.
But the house was empty, and she wasn’t answering her mobile.
Jumping back on the bus, I went to Mum’s.
‘She’s never done anything like this before,’ I panicked. ‘She even phones to check it’s okay to take him to the supermarket!’
‘Have you tried looking in town?’ she suggested.
Leaving Sarah with Mum, I made my way to the city centre, trudged the streets looking for any sign of Kayley and Ryan, but there was nothing.
Next, I went back to Kayley’s, but it was still empty. In tears, and desperate to find Ryan, I took the bus back to Mum’s.
‘Stay here tonight. If anything happens, she’ll call,’ Mum soothed. ‘We’ll both go to her place tomorrow. If she’s not there, we’ll call the police.’
Nodding tearfully, I fell into a fitful sleep.
Next morning, we were just getting ready to leave when my mobile rang.
‘It’s Birmingham Children’s Hospital,’ said a voice. ‘We’ve got your son Ryan here. You should come right away.’
‘What?!’ I gasped.
Had he hurt himself? Is that why Kayley had kept me away?
Then, in the background over the phone, I heard something that sent chills down my spine…
‘Tell her to hurry,’ Kayley’s voice sobbed. ‘Please, tell her to hurry.’
Oh God, what had happened?
Hanging up, I called a taxi which took me straight there, my mind racing with anxiety.
Why would she want me to hurry? Was Ryan going into surgery? And what was he doing in hospital in the first place?
Rushing into the hospital’s reception, I found Kayley slumped in a chair, pale and shaking.
‘What happened?’ I gasped.
‘He… slipped in the bath,’ she croaked, but she wouldn’t meet my eye. Behind me, a nurse took my arm and led me to one side.
‘You can see Ryan, but he’s very ill,’ she explained. ‘We’re still doing tests to see what the extent of his injuries are.’
‘Injuries?’ I gasped, but she was already walking towards a cubicle.
Inside was a small, unconscious boy who was beaten black and blue, his eyes swollen shut, his face badly scratched as though he’d been pulled through a hedge.
‘Th-that’s not my son,’ I whispered.
The nurse looked at me gravely. ‘I’m afraid it is,’ she said.
Stepping forward, tears stung my eyes.
‘How?!’ I croaked.
‘His injuries are consistent with being beaten several times,’ a doctor explained. ‘He has very severe head injuries – I’m sorry, but he may not survive.’
‘No, he wasn’t beaten, he slipped,’ I said, shaking my head. ‘The scratches on his face, that’s from the paramedics trying to open his mouth, and the bruises, perhaps they had to re-start his heart?’
The doctor looked at me sadly, then his focus shifted and locked behind me.
A policewoman had just joined us in the cubicle.
‘We’ve arrested Chris and Kayley on suspicion of assaulting Ryan,’ she explained.
This couldn’t be happening. Kayley was my best friend, she was auntie to my kids. I trusted her.
I couldn’t find out anything though, as Kayley had been taken into custody, and besides, right now, my priority was Ryan.
Me and John sat with him for the next few days, willing him to wake up.
‘You’re going to love your room,’ I sobbed, telling him about the mural on the door and the transfers waiting for him.
But four days after he had been admitted, my world suddenly came to an end. My poor son Ryan had a heart attack and took his final breath in my arms.
He’d never got to see his special room.
How had Kayley’s generous offer turned into this?
I barely remembered Ryan’s funeral, but I made sure he was dressed in his Bob the Builder pyjamas, and buried with his Thomas the Tank Engine Lullaby toy.
‘Sweet dreams,’ I whispered, laying it beside him in his coffin.
I couldn’t bear to go in his room, and remind myself that his special surprise had ended in tragedy.
I felt unable to look after Sarah either. She’d been with Mum since it happened.
A week after saying goodbye to him, social services came to see me. ‘We understand Sarah’s been living with your mum since Ryan died?’ they asked.
I nodded sadly.
‘We thought it might be best for her to go into foster care,’ they explained gently. ‘Until you’re feeling better.’
Breaking down, I shook my head. ‘She’d be better off without me for good,’ I sobbed. ‘Give her to someone who’ll at least make her happy.’
I was so messed up, I thought I’d never be able to look after her again. All I could think about was Ryan and what had really happened to him.
In July last year I found out, when Kayley and Chris, 25, were put on trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court.
Listening to what they’d put Ryan through was horrific, but I made myself.
He had 75 separate injuries. They’d even locked him in a cupboard and shouted at him until he’d wet himself.
They’d just turned on my baby boy, treating him like a rag doll.
All I can imagine is Kayley hid Ryan from me because they’d abused him so much at that point that they panicked.
They were found guilty of murder and child abuse, and were jailed for life.
But I’ll be serving the longest, cruellest sentence.
I can’t believe someone I trusted could be so callous. Not only have I lost Ryan, but I’ve lost Sarah for good too. All I’ve got to show for my family is a letter and photo from her once a year.
Recently, I was in the supermarket looking for a present to send to her. Choosing a tiny pink tutu, I went to pay.
‘These for your little girl?’ asked the lady at the checkout. ‘She’s going to love them.’
Holding my breath, I handed over the money as quickly as I could and ran out sobbing.
How will I ever be able to find the words to tell people how lost my life is without my children? And how I put my trust in someone who doesn’t deserve to live?
Amy Hancox, 23, Wolverhampton, West Midlands