Sara’s life was tragically torn apart when four of her children died after her car plunged into a river.
Sitting on my friend’s sofa we were having a brew and a good chat. “I don’t want to be single anymore,” I complained. Although I was only 16 years old I knew what I wanted in life – a big family and my dream man. “I’ve got a friend called Nigel, who’s staying here,” she said. “I’ll introduce you to him,” she smiled. Later that week I popped round to see her again and met Nigel Gresham.
He was tall with beautiful blue eyes and a cheeky smile. He was just my type. “Wanna go to the cinema tonight?” he asked. ‘Just try and stop me,’ I thought, shyly accepting his invite. After that date, we became a team.
Nigel was a welder and had a passion for improving cars and off-road driving – he’d even etched the Guns n Roses sign onto his favourite car. Although he was five years older than me he seemed to understand me in a way no one else had done – he was everything I’d always wished for. He was extremely attentive and caring – “You’re just a big cuddly bear,”I joked,kissing him on the lips.
The years passed in a whirlpool of dates and dinners. Two years later we were overjoyed when I found out I was pregnant with our first child. “She looks just like you,” Nigel cooed, kissing me on the head when our first baby Star was born on the 16th of January, 1994. We shared the late night feeds and nappy changes. “You’re the best dad,”I’d whisper to Nigel as he burped Star. To our delight at my six week check up I found out I was pregnant again. For some couples this may have seemed like too much to take on, but for us it only brought us closer. “Our dreams of having a huge family are coming true,” we laughed.
When Liam was born on the 2nd of December, 1994 it felt like we had twins as Star and Liam were so similar in ages. Star would always be wanting to help Liam and saw him as her own baby. We lived for our two children and every weekend would go shopping or to the park. Three years later we decided to have another baby and Amber was born on the 9th of October, 1997, followed swifly by Keavy on the 24th of July, 1999.
It was hard work but me and Nigel took it in our stride, Liam was just like his old man and would go with him at the weekends and watch him drive in the fields. Thor was born four years later on the 21st of April, 2001 then Angel on the 10th of April, 2003 and Willow on the 2nd of October, 2004. With seven children we decided that was more than enough for us and I decided to get sterilized.
“I must have spent six years being pregnant,” I’d laugh. We put our children before everything, it was always chaotic but we thrived on that. Thor was just like Liam and would enjoy helping his dad clean his cars and would watch him do his etchings. Amber also loved her dad and was never away from his side. “You two are joined at the hip,” I’d laugh making up a flask of coffee for Nigel to take with him as he went on the fields driving. It was perfect until the 16th of September, 2007.
A day that will permanently be etched in my mind. The day my life was destroyed forever. It was a crisp Autumn morning and I was getting breakfast ready when my mum Sheila and dad Pete popped over for a coffee. Thor was running around with egg boxes on his head pretenting to be a Dalek from Doctor Who, laughter echoed round the house. “Come on kids, it’s breakfast time,” I said settling them down. “Do you all want to come over for Sunday dinner?” my mum asked. “Yes,” seven excited voices shouted in unison. “We’ll be there,” I beamed. Me and Nigel spent the day playing with the kids and telling them their favourite stories.
Then around 3.30pm we started to get ready to go to Mum’s. I strapped Willow and Star in the back of our yellow Land Rover next to Liam, Thor,Keavy and Angel. Amber and Star sat behind Nigel. “Are you all hungry?” I grinned as we started off towards mum’s house. Switching on the radio I smiled as I heard the children sing along at different times to their favourite songs and I began to send a text message. There was a canoe competition and the kids were chattering about it. It would be the last thing I’d hear of them all together.
Suddenly I heard Nigel swear. Chucking my phone down I frantically looked straight ahead. My breath quickened as I saw in slow motion a transit van heading towards us. Nigel swerved. Then blackness. I opened my eyes. Holding my head I felt the icy cold water hit me. It was pouring in through the bottom of the car. Nigel smashed the car window with his foot and frantically tried to rescue our kids. Our car had flipped over and landed in the river Witham.
My heart was beating frantically. “My babies,” I screamed. The icy cold river which looked so calm was suffocating us. Screaming in terror the only thoughts tapping through my skull were: ‘If I don’t get out now we’re all going to die…” Pulling myself out of the car I ran into the freezing water to the window next to Nigel and tried to drag out the kids. Liam and Star had managed to unclip themselves as the car was flipping over. Their faces painted by fear…as they watched us try to free Willow, Angel, Thor, Keavy and Amber.
The water was rushing faster than I could think through the Land Rover. The doors were lodged shut. An eerie silence fell over the river, I could only hear my pounding heart racing. I could see Star and Liam screaming for help on the roof of the Land Rover as the current tried to drag me downstream. Nigel broke his shoulder trying to free the children. I felt utterly defenceless against the wild river.
Mustering all my strength I pulled myself onto the roof of the Land Rover. “I need to fight the current and save my babies,” I thought. Dangling my feet into the car I clasped Amber with my legs – using all my might I pulled her out. Her heavy body pulling on my legs. She was unconscious. Terror raced over my body, as I frantically tried to resuscitate her. Everything happened so quickly but it felt like I was frozen on the spot as I watched the local residents try to help us. One man brought a hammer and stated to pull Keavy, Willow, Thor and Angel out. I shook on the spot as I watched each child-size body being laid on the riverbank.
Cuddling Amber all I could do was watch. It was as if I was in a horror film. The four bodies, limp as fish on the side of the road looked so helpless and fragile. It’s an image that will be etched in my mind forever. Collapsing on the river bank I wanted it to be me. But I had to try and pull myself together, the others needed me now more than ever.
Amber was flown to Lincoln County Hospital, while I remained with Thor, Star and Angel. My body just shut down and I started to vomit as I held Star’s hand and whispered that everything would be okay. Thankfully Liam was shaken but would survive. The fleeting feeling of relief washed over me, but “what about the others?” I whispered. Me and Nigel went through to see Keavy, Amber, Willow and Thor, Collapsing on the ground I saw my children surrounded by tubes and silver blankets. I hugged and kissed them all and waited overnight and prayed they’d improve.
“It doesn’t look good,” the doctors told me as they stared into my bloodshot eyes, red raw from crying. I felt useless, I couldn’t do anything to take the pain away. “Was it my fault?” the question filled me with guilt. Nigel was my rock. He had lost his children too but tried to put on a brave face to mask his pain. He went into overdrive to cope with his emotions by contacting all our relatives and throwing himself into making sure I was okay.
“You’re the only one that really understands this,” I sobbed. The doctors had relentlessly been working on Willow for more than two hours when they told us: “Willow is braindead.” The words echoed around the hospital ward. “No,” I thought, my life spinning out of control. Everything was destroyed in that second. “She’s so young, so beautiful,” I screamed. Placing Willow’s limp body in my arms the doctors left us to say our final goodbyes.
She felt like how she’d been a few days ago when I’d picked her up and carried her to bed, so heavy and peaceful. “You’re with the Angels now,” I cried and kissed her head. But Star and Liam were still alive, and they needed me too. Overwhelmed with this grief my body went numb to all the pain. The next morning we went to see Keavy and were to be hit by another blow. “We’ve tried to save her, but she didn’t make it…” the doctors whispered. ‘When will I wake up, when will this end?’, I thought. Waves of sadness and currents of tears washed over me.
I couldn’t even tell Amber. I knew the minute I said it aloud I would have to accept that I’d just lost two beautiful children. Going to see Angel and Thor I knew it was not going to be good news by the expression on the doctor’s face. “Not again…” I choked – my throat hoarse from crying. “We’re sorry but they’ve both lost their fight for life,” they said. “What have we done to deserve this, we love our children more than anything,” I said collapsing into Nigel’s arms. But Amber was extremely strong and took hand prints and cut locks of their hair to keep.
“You shouldn’t have to go through this, we’re here to protect you,” I whispered in my darkest hour. Me and Nigel were at our closest as we shared our grief together. Only he knew what it was like to lose our beautiful, intelligent kids. He even arranged the funeral as I spent my days consumed with grief. The children got cremated on the 5th of October, 2007. Seeing their 4 little coffins made me wish it had been my own funeral.
I was a woman trying to function but failing miserably, I’d failed as a mother. The little children used to crave my attention, now I felt useless. Returning home I saw their four empty beds with all the toys lying on the floor. Holding their toys in in my arms I smelt their clothes. “I want my babies,” I’d cry. Me and Nigel started bickering and he seemed to go really quiet. On July the 17th, 2008 Nigel was arrested for dangerous driving.
Shock filled me as I realised that Nigel was going to be punished for this tragic accident. We needed to unite against this, but this whole tragedy was driving us apart. By November 2008 our grief finally pushed us apart. I took Star with me and we moved into a friend’s house while our other children stayed with Nigel. On the 23rd of January, 2009, Nigel was found guilty of dangeous driving and sentenced to two years. Sadness washed over me as I saw the kids faces start to crumple. “We don’t want Dad to go,” they cried. It was like they were losing another member of the family. “Don’t worry kids, you can visit him in prison,” I whispered, craddling them in my arms.
It turned out the LandRover modifications which Nigel had performed had turned the vehicle into a death trap. Waves of anger washed over me, but I knew I couldn’t keep being upset with Nigel – he didn’t intentionally try to ruin our family. After the court case I met Fraser Edwards, 29 – he was a mutual friend of mine and Nigel’s. He has kept me going throughout this tragedy and has helped me to try to move on, as painful as that has been. I think about Willow, Thor, Keavy and Angel every second of the day, but I try and think about all lovely memories I have of Thor running around in his sister’s clothes and Angel playing with her dollies.
With Fraser I can try and start afresh with the surviving children Liam, Star and Amber. I am trying to remain strong but some days I just feel guilty even laughing. We are all trying to move on and when Nigel is released from prison later this year, I hope he can get to bond again with the kids. What we have been through has tested everything I believe in but in every thought I have I will be thinking of my tragic children and wishing they were still here.