Authors: M.R. Hall
First published 2009 by Macmillan
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For P, T and W
first dead body Jenny ever saw was her grandfather's. She had watched her
grandmother, sobbing into a folded handkerchief, draw the lids down over his
empty eyes and then, as her mother reached out to comfort her, sharply push the
proffered hand away. It was a reaction she could never forget: accusatory,
vicious and utterly instinctive. And even as an eleven-year-old child, she had
sensed in this moment, and in the exchange of looks that followed, a bitter and
shameful history that would rest and settle behind the older woman's features
until, seven years later, she too shuddered unwillingly from her body in the
at the graveside, she stood behind her father as the coffin was lowered
awkwardly into the ground, she was aware that the silence of the adults around
her contained the poison of something so dreadful, so real, it gripped her
throat and stopped up her tears.
would be many years later, when she was well into troubled adulthood, that the
sensations of these two scenes crystallized into an understanding: that in the
presence of death, human beings are at their most vulnerable to truth, and that
in the presence of truth, they are at their most vulnerable to death.
was this insight, gained the night her ex-husband greeted her with divorce
papers, which had stopped her driving off a cliff or tumbling under an express
train. Perhaps, just perhaps, she managed to convince herself, the morbid
thoughts that had dogged her were no more than signposts on a dangerous and
precipitous road which she might yet navigate to safety.
months on she was still a long way from her destination, but far closer than
she had been that night, when only a flash of memory, given meaning by far too
much wine, brought her back from the brink. To look at her now, no one would
know that anything had ever been wrong. On this bright June morning, the first
of her new career, she appeared to be in the prime of her life.
TEEN TERROR FOUND HANGED
Wills, aged 14, was found hanging by a bed sheet from the bars of his bedroom
window in Portshead Farm Secure Training Centre. The discovery was made by Mr
Jan Smirski, a maintenance worker at the privately run facility, who had come
to investigate a blocked toilet.
Wills had served only ten days of a four-month detention and training order
imposed by Severn Vale Youth Court. Police were called to the scene but DI Alan
Tate told reporters that he had no grounds to suspect foul play.
of 29-year-old Simone Wills, Danny was the oldest of six siblings, none of
whom, according to close neighbours, share a father.
criminal record comprised drugs, public order and violent offences. His
imprisonment followed a conviction for the violent theft of a bottle of vodka
from Ali's Off-Licence on the Broadlands Estate, Southmead. During the robbery,
Wills threatened the proprietor, Mr Ali Khan, with a hunting knife, threatening
to 'cut [his] Paki heart out'. At the time of the offence he was in breach of
anti-social behaviour and curfew orders imposed only two weeks earlier for
possession of crack cocaine.
Shah of Southmead Residents' Action today said that Wills was 'a well-known teen
terror and a menace whose death should stand as a lesson to all young
Wills's short stain of a life had come to an end shortly before dawn on a
glorious spring morning: Saturday 14 April. He was, perhaps by fated
coincidence, aged fourteen years and as many days, earning him the dubious
honour of being the youngest prison fatality of modern times.
one - apart from his mother and the oldest of his three sisters - shed a tear
at his passing.
six-and-a-half-stone corpse was wrapped in white plastic and lay on a gurney in
a corridor of the mortuary of Severn Vale District Hospital over the weekend.
eight o'clock on Monday morning, a consultant pathologist, Dr Nick Peterson, a
lean, marathon-running forty-five- year-old, glanced at the bruises rising
vertically from the throat and decided it was suicide, but protocol required a
full autopsy nonetheless.
that afternoon, Peterson's brief report landed on the desk of Harry Marshall,
Severn Vale District Coroner. It read:
leading to death (a) Asphyxiation due
death but NOT related
the disease or condition
in the pathologist's
NOT contributing to
any further laboratory
to be made
may affect the cause
fourteen-year-old male was found in his locked room at a secure training
centre, hanging by a noose improvised from a bed sheet. Vertical bruises on his
neck, absence of fracture to the hyoid bone and localized necrosis in the brain
are consistent with suicide.
a world-wearied man of fifty-eight who struggled with his weight, mild angina
and the financial burden of four teenage daughters, duly opened an inquest on
Tuesday 17 April which he immediately adjourned pending further enquiries. He
sat again two weeks later on 30 April, and, over the course of a day, took
evidence from several staff employed at the secure training centre. Having
heard their mutually corroborative accounts, he recommended to the eight-member
jury that they return a verdict of suicide