A PORTRAIT FROM A KILLER
Her daughter had died when her drunk boyfriend crashed his car into a tree and told fire crews nobody was in the car as Emily burned to death. Then he started sending her gifts including a portrait he sketched. But there’s only one thing Mum Patricia wants, no other teen to die the way Emily did. So she has made the brave decision to show pictures of death scene to save others.
Tracing my fingers over the sketch I had to admit the likeness was rather good.
Emily’s silky brown hair, her trusting eyes and pretty smile… he’d got them down to a T. So why then did looking at it make me feel sick to the pit of my stomach?
Because it had been sent to me from Emily’s former boyfriend – the same man who’d drunkenly smashed his car into a tree…and then left my beautiful daughter inside to burn to death.
And as my eyes welled with angry tears, I couldn’t help torturing myself again. Remembering the last time I saw her…
‘You off out tonight?’ I asked Emily as she rushed around getting ready for part-time job in a supermarket.
‘Don’t know yet. I might meet the girls,’ she said, flinging things into her bag. She’d been friends with Natasha, Emily, Harriet and Jade and since school.
‘Well be careful and make sure you take your key,’ I told her as I kissed her goodbye. I was off out too, to a friend’s 50th birthday party.
As I watched her getting ready I couldn’t help feeling proud. She was 17 now and so independent. But then she’d always been mature for her age, had never given me cause to worry.
I knew I was lucky. Some teenagers give their mums Hell but Emily and I had always been close. When she was younger I’d ferried her around the country to Irish dancing competitions, then in her teens we’d spent most Saturdays shopping together, and now we made sure we kept Monday mornings free for us to catch up before I dropped her off at college for her afternoon classes.
She was studying for a diploma in accountancy, couldn’t make her mind up about university.
‘You don’t need to decide now anyway,’ I told her. ‘You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.’
The only thing we didn’t talk about much was her boyfriend, Waqas Arshad, 24. She’d told me that she was seeing someone but from what she said it didn’t seem that serious.
‘Bring him home for dinner one day, if you like,’ I’d told her.
‘Mum! It’s far too early for that!’ she’d giggled, turning red.
So I left it. But when a few months on, I still hadn’t met him, I started to feel a bit uneasy. Especially when I saw Emily getting into his white BMW with personalised number plates. Well, I knew what young lads could be like, showing off in front of their friends. And as a nurse, I saw the consequences, too…
Still, I told myself, he’s Muslim so at least he won’t be drinking. I reassured myself that Emily would be quite safe.
That night when I got home around half-past eleven, I peeked my head into Emily’s room. Her bed was empty. I wasn’t concerned. It was still early – if you weren’t a 50-something mum of two.
She’ll be home soon, I thought, looking in on her brother Jordan, 16, before heading off to bed.
Suddenly, I was woken my mobile phone. It was 5am.
When I saw Emily’s name flashing I answered it immediately. What was wrong? Was she having problems getting home? Did she need a lift?
But it was a voice I didn’t recognise.
‘It’s Asad,’ he said frantically. ‘Waqas’ brother. I’m in the hospital, there’s a car crash. Emily’s missing – is she there?
Missing? It didn’t make sense. ‘Then how have you got her phone?’ I asked.
But he wasn’t answering my questions, just rambling frantically about a crash.
I rushed into Emily’s bedroom. It was still empty. My stomach started to churn. Where was she…?
This was making no sense. ‘Are the police there?’ I asked Asad.
They came on the line and confirmed there had been a crash. Waqas was in hospital, but there was no sign of Emily.
‘But what’s happened exactly?’ I asked, still confused.
‘It’s very chaotic here at the moment and we don’t have any news for you but I’ll call you back as soon as we do,’ they promised. The phone clicked dead.
I sat on the bed, not knowing what to do, who to call. I thought about waking Jordan up but didn’t want to worry him too.
So I just sat there, telling myself the same thing over and over – she can’t be hurt, she has to be somewhere.
But still, a seed of doubt started to form. This just wasn’t like her at all…it just wasn’t in her nature to just disappear like this. She knew I’d be beside myself with worry….
I called into work to say I was going to be late for my shift. Then at six o’ clock the police called back. They asked me to confirm my name and address.
‘We’re on our way round,’ they said. ‘We’ll be there in twenty minutes.’
They must be bringing her home, I tried to convince myself. But that seed of doubt had started to grow…
This could the day my life will never be the same again, I thought as I i put on a black jumper and trousers.
I opened the door to a female police officer. Emily wasn’t with her.
‘Can I please come in?’ she asked gently.
‘I’m afraid Emily’s been killed,’ she said.
‘Do I need to come with you? Identify the body?’ I started waffling in shock.
‘That won’t be necessary,’ she said quietly. ‘There’s no body to indentify.’
‘Ww-what do you mean?’I stammered.
She had perished in the flames. There was nothing left of my beautiful daughter. She was gone. It was the worst moment of my life.
After she left, on auto-pilot I started to call family members.
‘I’d better get Jordan up,’ I told my husband Tom numbly.
I moved around the house in a state of shock.
I just couldn’t believe it. She was never coming back…
Those next days the phone never stopped ringing. But despite people’s kind words, the cards that fell through the letterbox, it still didn’t feel real.
I couldn’t cope with the fact that I couldn’t see any proof that Emily was dead. There was no body for us to pay our last respects to.
And then my thoughts turned to Waqas. Was he badly injured?
All the police would tell me was that he’d been detained in hospital. I asked if I could speak to a member of his family but I was refused. The crash was being treated as a crime.
What do they know that I don’t? I thought over and over. My daughter was dead. I needed to know what had happened to her. The police had returned Emily’s mobile. Waqas’s number was in it. I was so tempted to call him…
Instead, I threw myself into arranging Emily’s funeral. It took place ten days after her death. The church was crammed with 1000 of Emily’s friends and family.
The coffin contained the body bag with her charred remains. I thought I would collapse with grief as I watched it being carried out of the church.
Afterwards, my thoughts turned back to Waqas. I’d been told he’d sustained a minor abdominal injury. It didn’t make sense. How come he hadn’t been badly burned too? If he wasn’t that injured surely he could have pulled her out of the car…?
All I could think about was Emily. How if I’d know when she’d walked out of the door that Saturday afternoon that she was never coming back, I’d have held her tight and never let her go.
I couldn’t sleep, eat… do anything. Did she suffer? I wondered. Was she struggling to get out of the car? Screaming for help and no one came? I was eaten up with guilt.
I spent day after day at Emily’s grave, telling her how much I missed her, how much I loved her.
And then one afternoon, as I walked towards the plot, I saw someone else, a young Asian lad, was already there – Waqas?
‘What happened?’ I asked him, urgently searching his face for answers.
But he didn’t remember. All he told me was that he felt his legs turn hot, then…nothing. I hugged him tight thinking that he was hurting, missing Emily too.
But then, six weeks after Emily’s death, the police rang. Waqas had tested positive for drink driving. He’d been charged with causing death without due care whilst over the limit – a lesser charge than death by dangerous driving.
I couldn’t believe it. I was fuming. I’d lost my daughter and here he was, getting off lightly. It all seemed so unfair. Everyone kept telling me the pain would get better in time but life without Emily was getting harder and harder.
And it was going to get a whole lot worse…
Waqas appeared at Luton Crown Court in May 2009. It was only then that the full horror of Emily’s death came to light…
The court, packed with our relatives, heard how Emily and Waqas had had been out drinking together that night. It had been raining and the road was wet. Waqas had crashed into a sycamore tree down a country lane in the early hours of the morning. The car had eventually came to a halt in a field and caught fire.
But instead of frantically calling for help, Waqas got out of the car and did nothing, despite Emily still being trapped in the passenger seat.
And while he still maintained he had no recollection of the crash, statements by those present made it clear he had lied. When firefighters arrived and twice asked him if there was anyone else in the car, both times he said ‘no’ .
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How could he do that to someone else, let alone someone they were supposed to care about? Angry didn’t even come close to describe how I felt.
Especially when I learnt that Emily had not been killed by her injuries in the crash, but from smoke inhalation after her body was left to burn… If he’d just been honest, instead of lying, perhaps she could have been saved.
‘Why? Why?’ I kept asking myself. I thought Emily knew about the dangers of getting into a car with someone who’d been drinking but as well as being twice over the limit there were traces of cannabis in Waqas’s blood, too.
The case was adjourned, with Waqas remanded in custody until his sentencing two months later.
‘No sentence will compare to the life sentence we’ve been given,’ I said to Tom.
That July, Waqas was finally jailed for six years. It wasn’t enough. I was angry that throughout the trial his defence lawyer spoke on his behalf. He wasn’t even cross-questioned. If he had admitted he’d panicked at the scene and said sorry I would have been able to forgive him…but not now.
Especially having learnt that Waqas had since been arrested for drink driving while on bail following the incident…he obviously hadn’t learnt a thing from what had happened. Had he even given Emily a second thought?
After the trial I’d expected some sort of closure. But still the days stretched on, empty, in front of me. I’d sit in Emily’s bedroom and look through her clothes, photos of her as a child, anything to feel close to her.
I desperately wanted to ask Waqas why he’d lied about her being in the car and denied anyone the chance to save her. But my request to visit him in jail was denied.
But sickeningly, he had no qualms about contacting us, which I why I was so shocked to receive the portrait of Emily.
He had sent it to a friend and asked them to take it to our house. I was dumbfounded. Was it his way of saying sorry? An inscription read ‘RIP Emily’.
It made me feel sick to think he’d been doodling pictures of my dead daughter when, if it wasn’t for his lies, she might still be alive…
Soon afterwards, another gift arrived. This time he’d made a clock with Emily’s face surrounding with matchsticks.
Considering she had burned to death in a fire, matchsticks seemed another insult, and the ticking clock yet another cruel reminder of how her life had been so cruelly cut short.
And if he was really remorseful why had he been arrested for drink driving just months after Emily had been killed?
That’s why I decided to tell my story. To want to warn every young woman in Britain not to get in a car with Waqas – or any other driver who has been drinking.
I’ve even decided to release the horrific photos of Emily’s death to be published to serve as a warning to every teenager in Britain about drink driving. For a long time they were too painful for me to look at. Tom and Jordan still can’t bear to see them. But I needed to see the proof that she really was gone. And now I want to use them to help save other lives.
Every mum in Britain should to show these photos to their children as a warning. I lost my beautiful, vibrant daughter to a cowardly drunk driver and my world fell apart. Then just months later he was back on the road doing it again…next time, make sure it’s not your child sitting in the passenger seat.