Mum thought she was finally getting out of her abusive relationship with Francis, but he wouldn’t let her be free… Instead she discovered his secret, and paid the ultimate price.
By Robyn Jaffray, 18, from Alloa in Clackmannanshire
Moving into dad’s home was a confusing time for me.
“Why can’t we stay with you?” I whined as Mum helped me pack my bags.
She looked sad as she explained that life would be better for me and my brother, Scott, if we were living with our dad.
I adored Dad, he was wonderful.
But we had lived with Mum since her and Dad divorced when I was two, and she was my best friend in the whole world.
I was only eight, so leaving her to live with Dad 150 miles away in Clackmannanshire felt as if I may as well have been moving to Mars.
But Mum just couldn’t cope with us financially and Dad was much better off, so went to live with him.
“We’ll talk every day and you can come and see me all the time,” Mum promised.
Eventually, it was organised that we could see Mum every other weekend and life was perfect again.
It was a long way to where Mum lived in Inverness, so often we would meet a hotel in the middle so we didn’t have to travel for so long.
To me, they were like mini adventures and although I loved living with Dad, who spoiled us rotten, I was always excited to see Mum.
But after a year had passed, Mum got a new boyfriend called Francis who turned up every now and again during our visits.
From what I could tell, he seemed like a very busy man.
Whenever he was there, the visits were really rushed because he had things to be getting on with.
And his busy schedule meant that Mum often cancelled on us, so I didn’t like him much,
Francis was also really serious and gruff – he was always scowling and he would tell me off for giggling or being too loud.
“He’s boring,” I told Mum over the phone one day. “I don’t know why you like him, he never wants to have fun.”
Mum was the funniest, most bubbly person in the world so I just couldn’t understand how she could stand him.
But she just laughed and told me I had just seen him on bad days.
“We have loads of fun, you just don’t know him yet. Try and get along with him for me,” she said.
I tried not to make a fuss whenever Mum had to cancel because she was busy with Francis, but I hated it.
The only thing that made up for it was the fact that we spoke over the phone or on the computer almost every single day.
She was my best friend – I told her everything.
But then that slowly stopped too after Francis had a few clumsy accidents.
First, he broke her phone so we could only chat over email.
But then he broke her computer too, so I had to wait weeks at a time to speak to Mum – it was torture.
I was left in tears after another one of our visits, in December 2007, was cut short because Francis was there again and he wanted to go.
We had met halfway again in a hotel and Francis had shouted at Scott and I for running up and down the corridors.
“Don’t worry, we’ll see each other really soon, I promise,” Mum said as she hugged me tight and said goodbye.
But she couldn’t have been more wrong.
A week later I was confused when I finished my weekly after-school dance club and Dad wasn’t there to pick me up.
It was unlike him to be late – he always arrived early to watch the end of the lesson.
Eventually my grandad picked me up instead.
“Where’s Dad?” I quizzed him.
“He’s at home, he was just a bit busy, he’ll explain everything to you later,” he said, looking troubled.
There were several police cars outside the house when we pulled up, and Grandad rushed me straight upstairs and told me to stay out of the way until Dad called me down.
I sat excitedly chatting with Scott about what might have happened, I never in my wildest dreams considered that anything bad had happened.
But when the police left, Dad called us downstairs and sat us down.
He was fighting back tears and, suddenly, I was scared – I had never seen Dad cry.
His voice shook as he told us that Mum had been killed in some sort of accident.
“The police aren’t sure what happened at the moment, but they’re going to do everything they can to find out,” he explained.
My world crumbled – I was just 11 years old, how was I going to cope with the rest of my life without my mum?
Sobs racked my chest as the horror of what Dad had said hit me.
I begged him to tell me it wasn’t true, and I flew into a rage as Scott just stared at the floor in silence.
“Why aren’t you upset?!” I screamed.
I was too absorbed in my own grief to realise he was just in shock.
I cried myself to sleep and woke up in the morning convinced that it had all been a terrible nightmare, and Dad had to explain it to me all over again.
I felt numb with shock and the next few months passed in a blur.
But my grief turned to fury as over the course of the year the truth came out – Francis had stabbed my mum to death.
I was horrified and I just couldn’t get my head around it.
Mum was one of the most caring people I had ever met – she would never have done anything to hurt anyone.
“Why would anyone want to hurt her?” I asked as I bawled on Dad’s shoulder.
It transpired that Mum had discovered Francis had been cheating on her, and that he had got another woman pregnant.
They had a blazing row and she had decided to leave him, but when she started packing her bags Francis grabbed a knife and stabbed her several times in the neck.
He tried to resuscitate her, but when he was unsuccessful he tried to disguise the scene as a robbery gone wrong, throwing her jewellery into a nearby river. Sick.
But the truth caught up with him and, in October 2008, Francis Flanagan pleaded guilty to culpable homicide and was jailed for 11 years by the High Court in Aberdeen.
It wasn’t long enough for me, and I was angry for a long time.
It didn’t seem fair – he had stolen Mum’s future and I felt life should mean life.
Francis had made a mistake by fooling around with some other woman, but it was my mum who paid for it – with her life.
He robbed me of a lifetime of cherished memories.
Each day brought a new struggle, and it felt like my heart would break every time I found myself dialling her number, catching myself at the last minute.
As I’ve got older, I’ve come to understand things that I never saw as a young child.
Now I’m 18, I know that Mum had been a victim of Francis’ abuse for a long time and the relationship had been very volatile.
All those missed or brief visits were because he hated her seeing her family – he wasn’t a busy man, he was a controlling man.
And it was no accident when he broke her laptop and phone.
Francis had been slowly isolating Mum, before finally taking her away from us forever.
He has never apologised for what he did, so two years ago, I wrote to him in prison.
I told him how hard it was growing up without a mum, how I had to start big school without her support, and how devastating it was when she wasn’t there for my prom.
I tried to make him understand what it is like for a daughter to know her mum will never help her pick out her wedding dress, and how my future children will never know their beloved grandmother.
Most of all, I wanted to know why he did it – but he never even replied.
I’ll never let anyone forget what that monster did.
He shouldn’t get a second chance at life – he took away my mum’s.
As told to Helen O’Brien Google