Bereavement due to traumatic death

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

Audio & video

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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