Dicing with death

My hubby's secret addiction took away more than our money

Published by: Amy Thompson and Nicola Skinner
Published on: 12th April 2010

Palms sweating, heart racing, I stared at the travel agent as though she’d told me the world was ending. ‘Cancelled?!’ I gulped. ‘My wedding’s been… cancelled?!’
She nodded, looking frightened.
‘Sorry,’ she whispered. ‘We didn’t receive the payment in time to process your booking.’
‘No, no, no. My fiancé confirmed everything weeks ago,’ I insisted, shock turning to anger.
‘I’ve checked twice,’ she apologised.
My dream wedding in Mexico was just four weeks away. Family and friends had booked time off work to join me and Andy.
I’d only come in to add my niece to the booking. Now, I was being told there was no wedding!
Was Andy getting cold feet?
Rushing home, I found him on the PlayStation with my son Alex, 13.
‘Why has our wedding been cancelled?’ I demanded, planting myself in front of the TV.
‘Mum,’ Alex groaned, trying to see round me.
‘Oh!’ Andy replied sheepishly. ‘I was hoping you wouldn’t find out.’
‘How could I have missed something as obvious as not getting married?!’ I demanded.
‘It’s not like that,’ he said quickly. ‘The travel agent couldn’t go ahead with the booking because your nephew’s cheque bounced… but I paid it over the phone a few minutes ago.’
Oh! Relief flooded through me. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I grumbled, feeling silly.
Andy wrapped his arms around my waist.
‘Because you’ve had enough on your plate,’ he smiled. ‘And I didn’t want to embarrass
your nephew.
‘Besides, I’ll be your husband soon – it’s my job to look after you.’
I smiled. How could I have doubted Andy? We’d been together six years and he’d never let me down.
After two divorces, it’d taken me a while to trust a guy again. But Andy had been so patient. He’d even taken Alex under his wing, playing footie with him and helping with his homework.
‘Sorry for overreacting,’ I blushed.
‘Forget it,’ he grinned. ‘Leave the worrying to me, okay?’
‘Deal,’ I smiled.
A few weeks later, standing on a beach in Mexico, we made our vows under the sun. The day
was perfect.
But back in the real world, a few months later, things took a turn for the worse – Andy, an electrical engineer, was made redundant.
With me working as a nurse, we didn’t exactly earn a fortune.
‘How will we pay the bills?’ I worried, rifling through a stack of them on the worktop.
‘We’ll be fine,’ he reassured me. ‘I’ll get £5,000 redundancy pay in a few weeks, and I’ll find another job by then – promise!’
Of course things would be okay. Here I was, overreacting as usual.
I decided to take a step back, let Andy deal with the paperwork so I could work extra hospital shifts.
And he was more than happy being a house-husband while looking for a job.
Coming home from a late shift one night, I followed the scent of spaghetti bolognese to the dining room. Next to my dinner was a note from Andy.
Because I love you xxx, it read.
He even cooked that weekend, when Claire, a friend from work, and her hubby Steve, came to visit.
‘We’ve got some news,’ she grinned as we sat round the table.
‘I’ve been offered a nursing job at a hospital in Australia.
‘We’re moving in a couple of months.’
‘Wow!’ I beamed. ‘Congratulations.’
I listened eagerly as she babbled on about Oz – the sun, sea, sand… When they left, I was still picturing the perfect setting.
‘Alex would love living near a beach,’ I sighed.
‘Why don’t we go, too?’ Andy asked, turning away from the washing up to face me.
‘To Australia?’ I said, raising an eyebrow.
‘Why not?’ he shrugged. ‘You could get a job at the same hospital as Claire. And I’m not working, so there’s nothing holding us back.’
Life in the sun, sounded good.
Calling Claire the next day, she gave me the phone number and sent me an application form.
When I was offered a position a few weeks later, I was stunned.
Alex was thrilled. ‘So, I can go to the beach after school?’
he asked.
‘Yeah,’ Andy smiled. ‘And I’ll teach you how to surf.’
‘Cool!’ he beamed.
We had a few months to save before we left, so we moved in with my sister Lucy and rented out our house to my friend Sophie’s cousin.
By now I was working 60 hours a week, squirrelling away every penny into a savings account. I barely had time to eat or sleep. Not that I minded, it would be worth it.
Andy got a job as a supervisor at an electrical company, too.
Two weeks after we left our house though, I got a call from Sophie.
‘A repossession notice arrived in the post today at your house,’ she said. ‘What’s going on? Do you want my cousin to move out?’
‘No,’ I said, baffled. ‘It must be a mistake, I’ll talk to Andy.’
Once again, I panicked. He was responsible for making the mortgage payments each month. What was going on?
‘I got behind when I was out of work,’ he admitted. ‘But it’s sorted now.’
I was angry he’d kept it from me, but understood he had not wanted to worry me. It was like our wedding in Mexico again.
‘Okay,’ I replied. ‘As long as it’s sorted.’
When Sophie called a week later, saying they’d received another notice though, I called the mortgage company myself.
‘You’re in arrears,’ I was told.
‘If we don’t receive payment today, we will repossess.’
‘There must be some mistake,’ I fumed.
No time to ask Andy about it, I’d have to sort it first, ask questions later. I’d nip to the bank at lunch, get the money we owed, and pay up until we could sort it out.
I had £6,500 in my savings for Australia, I could afford to dip into them to help.
Standing opposite the bank clerk though, my heart lurched.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘You’re £1,500 overdrawn.’
‘But… that’s impossible…’ I stammered.
I’d had £6,500 in that account! I hadn’t touched a penny – how could I owe money?
My mind was racing, I couldn’t breathe…
‘Mrs Barker!’ I heard a voice shriek as my vision blurred and I collapsed.
Sitting in the back room of the bank half an hour later, I tried to calm down.
‘I’m okay,’ I insisted as the manager hovered over me. ‘I just don’t understand any of this.’
Turning her computer screen to face me, she drew up a list of scanned cheques – my signature on every one.
‘I never signed those,’ I gasped. ‘I don’t even have a cheque book…’
I trailed off as an icy feeling crept over me. My thoughts suddenly flashed back to the last time I’d seen my cheque book – I’d given it to Andy to shred when we moved, so how had a thief got hold of it?
Two police officers walked in.
‘I’m sorry Mrs Barker, we think your other bank accounts have been emptied, too,’ one said.
‘Payments to online gambling websites have been made from your other account, and unusual amounts have been taken from cash machines.’
‘But… how?’ I gasped. ‘Wouldn’t someone need my credit card to…’
There it was again, that icy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
We’d been told to leave our purses at home after a handbag was stolen at work.
My purse, along with all my credit cards, would have been in the house all day – easy enough to pick up and put back before I was any the wiser.
Only one person could have done this… Andy!
Picking up my mobile, I punched in the number of the shop where he was working.
Surely I was overreacting again? He’d be able to explain everything.
Only, when I asked for him at the store, the girl on the phone didn’t have a clue who I was talking about.
‘Sorry,’ she said, baffled. ‘No one by that name works here.’
The truth hit me like a slap in the face. Andy was living a lie – and so was I.
‘I have to go home,’ I mumbled to the police, as I got up and left.
I dialled Andy’s mobile.
‘Andy! I know everything about the money,’ I said.
The line went silent, then…
‘So what if I took the money? I’ve done nothing wrong,’ he said.
What?! We had a whole new life planned, I’d saved so hard, and now he’d just spent it?
‘I want you out,’ I told him. ‘Stay at your mum’s or something, but I don’t want you near me.’
There I’d been, trusting him to sort out our money worries, when he was the problem.
Andy stayed away, but constantly called, begging me to take him back.
‘I’m in a really dark place,’ he sobbed over the phone. ‘I know I’ve got a problem. I started gambling online for something to do, but it spiralled out of control.’
‘You used all our savings,’ I spat.
‘I’m sorry, I can’t stop,’ he cried.
We were just two months from our first wedding anniversary, and we were falling apart. I felt myself softening… Andy had a problem, after all. But I couldn’t forgive him that easily – lying to me about his job, the mortgage.
‘You should have told me sooner,’ I sighed. ‘You need to get help. Prove to me this won’t happen again.’
‘I’m going to, I promise,’ he said. ‘I’ll see a counsellor, sell my computer, anything.’
‘Get sorted, then we’ll talk.’
But as police investigated the case, the evidence mounted against him. He’d even taken out loans in my name, landing me in almost £30,000 of debt.
Prosecutors were building a strong fraud case against him.
Andy kept pestering me to give him another chance.
Our anniversary came and went. I didn’t know what to do.
I loved him, I’d said I would give him a chance… but he’d been so deceitful. How could I ever trust him again?
I stood my ground.
‘If I forgive you, it’s going to take time,’ I warned. ‘Get the help you need, then we’ll try to sort things out.’
Me and Alex were allowed to move back into our house, but our plans for Australia were cancelled.
Pottering around the home we’d shared with Andy, it felt so empty, but he had to focus on getting better, and I had to focus on moving on and getting out of debt.
Then, one morning, I was woken by my neighbour Graham banging frantically on the front door.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked, bewildered.
‘Don’t let Alex look in the garden,’ he said, wide-eyed. ‘It’s Andy – he’s in the trees.’
In the trees?! What was he on about? Was Andy stalking us now?
Peering through the dining room window overlooking our garden…
Oh, my God, Andy!
His limp, blue body was hanging by a rope from the apple tree.
I’d worked as a nurse long enough to know he was dead.
Stumbling back into a chair, I broke down as the sound of sirens filled the air.
Before I knew it, police were filing in and Graham took Alex to his house.
‘I’m sorry, Mrs Barker. We found this note pinned to your husband’s shirt – it’s addressed to you,’ an officer said.
I wasn’t allowed to touch it because it was evidence, but she read it to me.
My darling Ange, please don’t hate me for what I’ve done, she started.
The letter went on for two pages about how much he loved me and Alex, how he couldn’t stand what he’d done, and couldn’t live without us.
I listened, barely taking it in.
I know it’s a lot to ask, Andy wrote. But I would like you to go to my funeral and be my wife one last time.
My body shook with sobs. I’d loved him, I would have done anything for him. The last thing I could do for him was grant his final wish.
Me and Alex went to his funeral, but a mix of emotions surged through me.
I wanted to hate him for what he’d done, and I couldn’t forgive him for the scene he’d created in our garden, and what he’d exposed my son to.
But part of me felt desperately sorry for my husband – the man I’d married, not the man he’d become.
We’d promised to love each other for richer, for poorer, till death us do part.
I just never realised how much poorer Andy’s life was without me…
Angela Roberts, 45, Hull, East Yorkshire