By Issy Dougherty
- Part 1 -
I remember being around 6 years old when my mother introduced me to K. We were in a restaurant in Liverpool and we moved in to his house the next day. A few months later he took me to Disneyland. My mother couldn’t go because she was heavily pregnant. We got to Disneyland and I was extremely excited - I remember wanting a picture with Tigger out of Winnie the Poo but there were too many other children and he didn’t notice me. I told K that I was upset because Tigger ignored me.
K beat up Tigger in front of everyone. I was frightened.
We landed in England a few days after that and that night my mum got strangled and beaten for the first time. I was absolutely petrified and I didn’t know what to do. Every other night K beat my mum black and blue.
I got picked up from primary school one day, and I was told we were moving to Spain that night. I was excited but also very nervous about K. In Spain, the abuse got a lot worse. I remember how hard I found it to sleep I was so worried. I thought my mum was dead nearly every single night. I would try to protect her but he would never stop. I used to think, “will he ever not be in my life?” When I would cry, he would tell me “We don’t cry”. To this day those words still haunt me.
K would always be furious and I felt like I had to tread on egg shells around him. We lived in an apartment on the top floor and one night we had all been out for a family meal. When we got home, K started arguing with my mum because I was cuddling her on the couch. He told her, “you’re my wife”. He beat her up so badly that night that the neighbours rang the police. I was on top of my mother trying to protect her. I felt almost invisible as this huge man beat my mother up. I had no fear of him hurting me while I was on top of her, I just wanted her to be safe. He tried stabbing my mum’s eyes out that night. I remember seeing her on the floor, her eyes so swollen she couldn’t open them.
I heard footsteps coming toward the front door and I started yelling, “Help! Help! My mum’s dead”. It was the police and I was so relieved. K didn’t go easily - it took four police officers to get him out. He was shouting and biting them while my mum was lay there with paramedics all around her. I was crying hysterically and ran to her as she was trying to talk. I hoped desperately she would be ok. I was terrified and I needed my mum.
I never saw K again after that night.
- Part 2 -
At the age of 12, I moved in to my father’s house. I finally felt like I had a “normal” family again but life’s never that easy. I quickly came to realise my father had an aggressive drinking problem, just like my mother did at the time. I didn’t live there very long, as over time, my father started having constant arguments with his partner and I couldn’t go through that traumatic experience and negative atmosphere again.
A few days after I told my mum, she flew me back to Spain. That is when I met S, and I remember thinking he was young! But he promised that nobody would hurt us again. I genuinely trusted him and began to love him like a father figure. We all moved back to Manchester so my mum could give birth in the UK, but just like everything, it didn’t last long and we ended up back in Spain.
My mum went crazy then. She was always drinking, but I didn’t blame her and never will. She felt so trapped with K and she just wanted to be free. We just hoped S was different and he was some ways, but not in others.
One night S and my mum went out and he passed me a gun. He said if anybody knocks on the door you shoot! I didn’t flinch, I felt like this was normal.
My mum moved us back to Liverpool and once again we were moving to a new school, new friends, a new home. It felt like a vicious circle. I always thought, “will we ever just be normal?” My mum was out every weekend and I knew she was meeting a new boyfriend - I could just sense it. I didn’t want her to be in a relationship with anybody but once again she told me, “He will be different”.
When I met B I did not like him one bit. He looked evil. He was too young, he drove a BMW and had no sense of style! He bought us lots of nice things and we could have whatever we wanted. We all moved back to Spain again, and I noticed a change in my mum. She wasn’t just drunk all the time, she really had no idea what was going on. I thought he was definitely spiking her or drugging her. I’ve seen my mum drunk and that wasn’t just drunk! They would argue and he would tell her she couldn’t go out. I felt like he just wanted to control her. He wouldn’t let her drive and he would just want her to himself.
We ended up moving back to the UK. We had an amazing house and also a live in nanny! B told me I was going to a boarding school. I was almost relieved because maybe it would be a break away from this crazy life style. I could come home on weekends and my mum would be happy. But I didn’t want to be in boarding school! I was right back in Birmingham and I was so excited to be living back with my family. When I arrived, my mum was waiting at the door with my two siblings. I was so happy to be home, but that night, mum was extremely out of character. I hadn’t even seen her have that much to drink but I just knew B was doing something dodgy to her. I would argue with him all the time about the most random things. I think he saw me as an adult, and maybe because of that I acted like one.
One night, B and my mum argued and he left. My mum was extremely sad. If I’m honest, I was relieved he left as I thought I might get my mum back. B wasn’t violent, but the mental abuse was horrendous. He’d call me fat, tell me that my mum didn’t want me and that she didn’t care. He made me feel like I was nothing and worthless. Even though K physically hurt us, all the mental abuse of B hurt me a thousand times worse.
- Part 3 -
We ended up back living with S. I loved it. I always wanted my mum to be with him. S made me feel safe. He used to say, “Iz, you’re the only normal one”. But I could tell my mum wasn’t happy. She was drinking so much, I couldn’t even tell that she was my own mother. I started misbehaving in school which I had never done before.
My mum got sectioned under the Mental Health Act and a couple of nights after, me and my two sibling got take off my mum and put into care. I will never forget that night for the rest of my life. I used to think it was my fault because I hadn’t gone to school that day. I went out with friends and I thought if I had been at home I wouldn’t have let my mum get that drunk.
I blamed myself and I went off the rails. I was drinking and just being crazy and I let my past predict my future for a couple of years.
Then the worst possible thing happened - S passed away. It broke me. I loved him like a father. I couldn’t cope anymore and I used to think, “what have I done to deserve this life?” But I know S will always be looking over me.
I had to tell my mum he had died and I was anxious and worried. I didn’t know what to do. I told her to sit down and she knew something bad had happened. We sat and cried to each other all night.
- Part 4 -
A few months later, I got myself arrested for a knife point robbery at the age of 15. I was just a baby, and up against a Section 18 offence, only just less serious than attempted murder. I was on bail for a year and a half and I regretted it so much. I had missed out on so much of childhood already and now I found myself up before a judge in crown court.
During that time, my mum got sentenced to 7 years for conspiracy to commit fraud. My whole world fell apart - but this time there was nobody to run too. I felt as though I had lost my mum all over again.
When it got to my last court date I had turned 16. I had a meeting with my barrister, and he told me to take a bag to court with my essentials in. My heart dropped. I felt like I couldn’t think, breathe, or talk. I just wanted the walls to swallow me whole. The barrister looked me in the eyes and said, “You are looking at a 7 year sentence.” It was like I had no control over my body, I felt no emotion, I felt nothing.
But that day changed my life in the best possible way.
The judge knew a little bit about my past and she told me I was a victim. She gave me a year and half on a Youth Offending Team referral order, and I was over the moon. I’d never felt as terrified as I did when I was waiting to be sentenced. Tears flew out of my eyes - they were streaming and there was no stopping them.
The judge wanted to see me 6 months after being sentenced to see if I had committed any more offences and if I’m doing well. By then, I had a job as a chef and was in college. That day, I went to the judge’s chamber and there was a Christmas bag on her desk. Inside was a cooking book that the judge had bought for me. She was so pleased and almost seemed proud of me because of how well I had done!
From that day, all I have done is better myself. My relationship with mum is now everything I could ever ask for!
- Part 5 -
To this day, I would not change a thing that has happened to me, because it has made me who I am today - a strong minded, kind and independent woman.
No matter what you go through in life, never let that change who you really are, otherwise you end up just as bad as the people that are treating you in that way. Me and my mum are survivors. Not victims, but soldiers. And we have the most amazing bond I could ever ask for.
All photographs are reproduced with permission from Issy.
Issy’s story, and her mum’s, was written with support from Naima Sakande, Women’s Justice Advocate at the Centre for Criminal Appeals.