My daughter Ceri had everything to live for. But her life was about to fall apart…
By Eleri Linden, 50, from Colwyn Bay, North Wales
As she swung her overnight bag over her shoulder, I could hear the excitement in my daughter Ceri’s voice.
“This is going to be a good night,” she beamed. “Bye Mum!”
“Bye, love,” I said. “Have fun.”
Ceri had been through a really rough time. She’d suffered badly with depression and I felt she hadn’t got the help she needed from the health service.
Her relationship with her partner, Sam, had also broken down and their two-year-old daughter Bethan was living with him because of Ceri’s health problems.
It had been a tough few years for us all. But, finally, there was some light at the end of the tunnel. Ceri had an interview for a science course at a college in Chester.
She was so excited, she’d already put down a deposit on a student flat with two friends.
“If I pass, I’ll be able to apply for university,” she told me.
I was so proud. Ceri had always been top of the class and she had so much potential. Now, she and her friends had planned a big night out in Chester to celebrate.
They couldn’t wait to find out where all the best bars and clubs were.
Hopefully this time she’s turned the corner, I thought.
I’d been looking after Ceri’s beloved springer spaniel Bella while she was away. When she got home, I texted her asking if she wanted take her for a walk along the beach.
Within seconds, my phone had buzzed with a reply which made my blood run cold.
It read: I can’t. Something terrible has happened.
My insides twisted as I dialled Ceri’s number.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked, as soon as she answered. “You know you can tell me anything.”
Poor Ceri was crying so much I couldn’t make out what she was saying.
“I’m coming over,” I said, before jumping in the car and making the two minute journey to her house.
Ceri didn’t answer the door, so I ran upstairs to her bedroom. She was hiding under the covers and her eyes were red and blotchy.
“Mum, I’ve been raped,” she croaked, before breaking down in floods of tears.
Shock and horror rushed through my veins but I knew I had to keep it together for Ceri’s sake.
“Oh, darling,” I said, trying to stay calm. “Just start from the beginning and tell me everything.”
“I got into a car thinking it was a taxi,” she wept. “But the driver took me to his house and forced himself on me.”
I hugged Ceri as she explained she’d asked the driver to wait for her friends, but he’d sped off. He’d driven her to his home and ordered her to turn her phone off and go inside.
She’d refused at first but, scared of what he’d do to her, she felt like she had no choice.
“Then I managed to escape,” Ceri said, between sobs. “I ran as fast as I could and hid in a bush in the next street but I could see his car. He was driving around, looking for me.”
In hysterics, Ceri phoned her friend Carl, who called the police. Hearing the commotion a neighbour came out to see what was going on.
Shockingly, the neighbour showed Ceri no sympathy. She just bundled her into a taxi and sent her on her way, refusing to let her wait for the police.
“I just walked the streets alone for hours,” Ceri admitted.
My poor, poor girl.
“Why didn’t you call me?” I gasped.
“I didn’t want to worry you,” Ceri replied.
“But I’m your mum,” I said. “I’d have been there in a flash, if only you’d told me.”
On the bedside table, Ceri’s phone started buzzing.
“It’s the police,” she said, cancelling the call. “They’ve been ringing me ever since Carl phoned them.”
“Maybe best to answer,” I said, gently. “We don’t want this horrible man on the loose.”
In no time, there were two officers at Ceri’s door. They took a statement and I couldn’t believe how much she could remember about her attacker.
She described his car, what he looked like and where his house was. She even remembered what way his driveway faced.
“You’re so brave,” I told her.
The next day, Ceri was taken to Manchester for humiliating forensic examinations. I held her hand in the back of the police car as we travelled there.
“I don’t know if I can go through with this,” she told the officers, shaking. “I don’t want to face him in court. What if I’m made out to be a liar?”
But the police talked her round and eventually she agreed to give a video interview.
A few days later, we got the call we’d been waiting for.
“They’ve arrested a man called Masood Mansouri,” Ceri said. “He’s been refused bail.”
Even though she’d had a bit to drink, Ceri’s descriptions were so detailed the police had tracked her attacker down within days.
I hoped this would give her a bit of a boost, but she still seemed withdrawn and down. I stayed up all night chatting to her, trying to make her feel better, but it didn’t work.
She didn’t even want to eat.
“Why don’t I cook us a roast?” I suggested. “I’ll pop to the shops and get some really nice food.”
I knew my other daughters, Becky, 18, and Emma, 16, would enjoy a nice family dinner, too.
“Whatever,” Ceri shrugged.
Ceri was vegetarian, so I made sure I picked up some quorn chicken. I was only gone for around half an hour and I picked up a pastry to take back to her, too.
When I got home, she was still sitting on the couch, in the same position I’d left her.
We chatted as normal for around ten minutes before Ceri said the words which would change all of our lives forever.
“Mum, I love you,” she began. “But I’ve taken an overdose.”
Frantically, I quizzed Ceri on what she’d done. She was barely able to tell me she’d downed a bottle of my blood pressure tablets before she passed out, slumping on the couch.
I let out a scream so piercing Becky sprinted into the living room. My hands were shaking as I dialled 999.
“I need an ambulance, now!” I choked. “My daughter’s taken an overdose!”
For the next half hour, Ceri slipped in and out of consciousness, struggling for breath, but there was no sign of the ambulance.
Poor Becky had to hold her sister’s mouth open to help her get some air in her lungs.
“Where are you?” I screamed down the phone at the ambulance call handler. “Why haven’t you come?”
“I’ll make sure an ambulance comes now,” she assured me. Around fifteen minutes later, sirens came screeching down the street.
But just as they placed Ceri on the stretcher, she had a massive heart attack.
Deep down, I knew we’d lost her, but I ran to my car and Becky, Emma and I followed the ambulance to hospital.
“It’s not looking good,” a doctor warned us.
The next few minutes passed in a blur. Becky and Emma were hysterical and I tried to comfort them, but nothing could calm them down.
Eventually, I spied a sombre looking doctor walking towards us.
“We’ve tried to resuscitate Ceri but there’s nothing more we can do,” she said, solemnly.
We clung to each other and cried as she asked for our permission to turn off Ceri’s life support machine.
“Do you want to say a final goodbye?” she asked, but it was too painful. We didn’t want to remember Ceri lying lifeless on a hospital bed.
I couldn’t understand how my beautiful, clever, loving girl was gone. She was just 20.
For the next few months, we were lost in a haze of grief. Without Ceri, life seemed pointless but Bethan gave us a reason to go on.
“Where’s my mummy?” she’d ask.
“She’s in the stars, darling,” we’d reply, choking back tears.
In time, Masood Mansouri, 33, appeared at Chester Crown Court, charged with rape, kidnap and sexual assault. Ceri’s video evidence was played to the jury.
I couldn’t face sitting in court listening to Mansouri’s lies, so I read about the case in the papers. It made me sick to my stomach when he told the court Ceri had come onto him in the taxi.
I thought: Why would my beautiful girl touch a monster like you?
Finally, on April 30 this year, I got a call from the police.
“Mansouri has been found guilty of all charges,” an officer told me. “He got thirteen years in jail.”
She added that he’d probably be deported back to his native Iran when he was released.
It was the first time in British legal history that a rapist had been convicted without the victim being cross examined by the defence.
I burst into tears but soon my relief turned to anger. This man’s actions had driven my lovely Ceri to her death and nothing would bring her back.
Like many rape victims, she’d have been traumatised at the idea of taking the stand against Mansouri and I know the thought of being cross examined would have terrified her in her final days.
I can only hope her case might spare other girls the trauma of giving evidence in court after a sexual assault.
The pain of losing Ceri rips me apart every day but it gives me some comfort to know she helped put her attacker behind bars, where he can’t hurt another innocent girl.