THE VIC­TIMS Our dar­ling mother and beloved sis­ter THE MUR­DER Blasted to death in a leisure cen­tre car park THE KILLER Our con­trol­ling fa­ther we were fi­nally try­ing to flee

Two broth­ers’ gut-wrench­ing di­ary of the cru­ellest crime imag­in­able

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - by Luke and Ryan Hart

On Tues­day, July 19, 2016 at 8.50am, the quiet mar­ket town of spald­ing was slowly wak­ing up. at the Cas­tle sports com­plex pool some res­i­dents were en­joy­ing their pre-work swim while oth­ers were jog­ging laps around the nearby track.

The cen­tre’s car park was al­most empty. at this hour, just be­fore the start of the work­ing day, there were only three peo­ple and a hand­ful of cars to be seen.

Two thun­der­ous roars pierced through the si­lence, res­onat­ing in the still air. There was a pause be­fore a fi­nal deep shud­der shook the town.

staff from the sports cen­tre and a nearby cleaner rushed to­wards the sounds of gun­fire. Two women were ly­ing on the ground in the car park, both suf­fer­ing from gun­shot wounds to the ab­domen.

a few me­tres away, the re­mains of a man were strewn across the ground. The women were reg­u­lars at the pool and were in­stantly recog­nised by the staff: they were Claire Hart, aged 50, and her daugh­ter Char­lotte, just 19.

Claire had suf­fered fa­tal wounds and died quickly. But Char­lotte was con­scious and call­ing for help.

an air am­bu­lance was sum­moned but, de­spite the best ef­forts of coura­geous staff and paramedics and Char­lotte’s tremen­dous will to sur­vive, she also died at the scene. Claire’s two sons were work­ing hun­dreds of miles away and un­aware of the events. The news would reach them shortly and, with it, the un­rav­el­ling of their trau­matic past. Here, in ex­cru­ci­at­ing de­tail, they tell their story.

THE SONS’ STORY: Claire was our mother and Char­lotte our lit­tle sis­ter. They were our best friends and role mod­els. They were our in­spi­ra­tion and pur­pose in life. The man who shot them in the car park that morn­ing, and then turned his sin­gle-bar­relled shot­gun on him­self, was our fa­ther, 57-year-old Lance Hart.

RYAN: Through­out June 2016 I had been com­mut­ing to Hol­land for work, re­turn­ing to the fam­ily home in the Lin­colnshire vil­lage of Moul­ton at week­ends.

I’d kept the de­tails of my new job, as an en­gi­neer with an oil com­pany, a se­cret from my fa­ther. I pre­ferred him to know as lit­tle as pos­si­ble about my life, es­pe­cially as the four of us — Luke, Mum, Char­lotte and I — were plan­ning in se­cret to leave the fam­ily home within weeks and start new lives, free from his suf­fo­cat­ing, con­trol­ling grasp.

Plot­ting our es­cape from what felt like a max­i­mum­se­cu­rity prison was ex­haust­ing. I was closely watched on week­ends at home with Mum and my sis­ter. Our fa­ther would fol­low us around the house, some­times bla­tantly.

In or­der to make our plan of es­cape, we would have to sit out­side in the gar­den and whis­per, closely watch­ing the back door for any sign that he was ap­proach­ing. We learned to switch quickly to a neu­tral topic. We felt like spies un­der­cover in a for­eign coun­try.

LUKE: strolling through spald­ing on the evening of Wed­nes­day, July 13, 2016 I felt buoy­ant. To­mor­row was the day of our great es­cape.

Ryan and I were stay­ing in a ho­tel so as not to alert our fa­ther to the fact that we were in the area — we both had jobs far away, my brother in Hol­land and me in aberdeen.

TO­geTHeR we went over the plan for the next day. We would pick up the hired re­moval van at 8am then head straight to the fam­ily home.

Our fa­ther should be safely out of the way at his job at a builders’ mer­chants by then. We’d load what­ever we could into the van and leave by lunchtime, be­fore he got back. We had a ter­ri­fy­ingly short time to com­plete the en­tire op­er­a­tion, but we felt con­fi­dent we could do it. We had to.

The next morn­ing we col­lected the keys for the re­movals van. In just a few hours, our worldly goods would be in­side it. But all that mat­tered was that Mum, Char­lotte, Ryan and I would be to­gether.

We drove to our vil­lage and parked the van one street up from the house, tex­ting Mum to say we’d ar­rived. We got no re­sponse. We tried call­ing her. noth­ing. now we started to panic, and Ryan ran over to the house.

The car was still out­side, which meant our fa­ther was there too. We could only wait. Fif­teen min­utes later, Mum called — from work. He had in­sisted on driv­ing her there — an­other in­stance of his para­noia. His be­hav­iour had been par­tic­u­larly bad that morn­ing.

We col­lected Mum and brought her back to the house. now we had only a cou­ple of hours to get ev­ery­thing into the van be­fore he would be back for lunch. given how ag­i­tated he was that morn­ing, we feared it could be sooner.

Mum showed us to the safe our fa­ther had chained up in the garage with all her per­sonal doc­u­ments in­side. I phoned a lock­smith to come quickly to open it.

In the mean­time, we had di­vided the fam­ily’s be­long­ings in two; half would re­main in the house, the other half we would take to the lit­tle rented house in spald­ing, five miles from Moul­ton, that Ryan and I had ar­ranged for Mum and Char­lotte to live in. We were all highly on edge.

The clock was tick­ing. Fi­nally, though, we closed the slid­ing door at the back of the van: we were ready to go. Mum left a note say­ing she would email our fa­ther later. she even left his lunch.

Our dogs Indi, a black and white Jack Rus­sell cross, and Bella, a labradoo­dle, hopped in with us.

so there we were: cramped in the

front of a dusty van, laugh­ing hys­ter­i­cally but over­come by emo­tion at what we had achieved.

Our mea­gre pos­ses­sions rat­tled be­hind us, but our fu­ture opened widely be­fore us. Here we were with noth­ing but love, yet we had ev­ery­thing we needed. We were fi­nally free. Our fam­ily had been reborn.

RYAN, HOL­LAND: Five days later, on Tues­day, July 19, I was bounc­ing with en­ergy. The move to the new rented house had been suc­cess­ful, and Mum and Char­lotte were adapt­ing well to their new lives. Luke and I were back at work.

I was busy that morn­ing, but around mid­day I opened the BBC news app on my phone. One par­tic­u­lar story caught my eye: ‘Three dead in shoot­ing in spald­ing’. There was not much in­for­ma­tion yet — just that it had hap­pened at the Cas­tle pool, where our fam­ily had fre­quently swum for years. Fur­ther de­tails would be re­leased as they be­came avail­able.

I im­me­di­ately mes­saged Mum and Char­lotte. ‘I heard there was a shoot­ing at the swim­ming pool,’ I told them. ‘Let me know you’re OK. Call me please.’

Char­lotte, like most teenage girls, was tech-savvy. she would re­ply straight away, even if Mum didn’t.

But she didn’t. The panic I felt was over­whelm­ing. The phone mes­sages both in­di­cated ‘de­liv­ered’ but not yet ‘Read’.

I called Luke and told him what I’d heard. He re­as­sured me that I must be over­think­ing the sit­u­a­tion and sug­gested I phone our lo­cal

po­lice sta­tion. ‘Hello’. It was the voice of a calm and con­fi­dent young woman.

‘Hi. I’ve just seen on the news that there has been a shoot­ing in Spald­ing. I know my mum and sis­ter were in the area. Can you please con­firm they were not in­volved? Their names are Claire and Char­lotte Hart.’ The pause be­fore the woman on the end of the phone re­sponded was ex­cru­ci­at­ing. ‘Can I take your name?’ ‘Ryan Hart,’ I choked. ‘Hi Ryan. Can I take a con­tact num­ber and I’ll get some­one to call you back?’

A few min­utes later the phone rang. It was a dif­fer­ent woman, again kind and calm, re­quest­ing con­tact de­tails for fam­ily mem­bers and Char­lotte’s boyfriend.

Her call should have con­firmed my worst sus­pi­cions, but in­stead I clung to my con­vic­tion that, come Fri­day, I’d be back with my mum and sis­ter in our new home to­gether.

The phone rang again. It was one of my mum’s best friends from her work at our lo­cal Mor­ri­son’s su­per­mar­ket. He was call­ing from Spald­ing po­lice sta­tion.

His next five words would shat­ter my delu­sions and force me to ac­cept the un­bear­able truth. ‘Come home, mate. Come home.’ My mother and lit­tle sis­ter had been mur­dered. LUKE, ABERDEEN: The taxi driver on the way to the air­port was chirpy and be­gan to chat. I tried to en­gage but words made me feel sick. Then he saw my red-raw eyes and asked if I was all right. I told

him I had re­ceived sad news. The rest of the jour­ney was in si­lence.

Time blurred. The next thing I re­mem­ber was land­ing at Lon­don City air­port. Three po­lice of­fi­cers stood wait­ing.

I was es­corted to a pri­vate room, where I gave them a rapid sum­mary of our home life with our fa­ther. Ryan had man­aged to get the last flight from Hol­land to Stansted air­port, and there was a co-or­di­nated rush around me as we set off to meet him. I was put into a car, dazed and frozen. RYAN: Luke was out­side the ter­mi­nal, wait­ing by two un­marked po­lice cars.

Just two days ago we’d been sit­ting in the liv­ing room of our new rented house, pack­ing boxes piled high against the walls, our dogs run­ning around and lick­ing our faces. That day had been filled with laugh­ter. For the first time in Mum’s life we could sense that worry and fear were com­pletely ab­sent from her joy.

I didn’t ex­pect that part­ing to be the last time I ever saw my mother.

LUKE: On Au­gust 16, 2016, ex­actly four weeks af­ter the day that tore our lives apart, we car­ried the cas­kets con­tain­ing the bod­ies of our adored mother and sis­ter, whom we had spent our lives pro­tect­ing, into the vil­lage church.

The vicar read out our eu­logy, against a back­drop of si­lence bro­ken only by our heav­ing sobs. ‘Mum would al­ways be so proud of her chil­dren, and we would all be so proud of her. Never have we met any­body who is so de­fined by their ca­pac­ity to love, whose en­tire essence is love.’

We wept un­til our eyes ached. Yet, among all the ut­ter ex­haus­tion, came a faint sense of peace.

In what seemed like the black­est dark­ness, we be­gan to see the guid­ing light of our mother and sis­ter. Ryan and I needed each other. Our dogs Indi and Bella needed us, and we needed them. We had rea­sons to be here.

That night we com­mit­ted to do­ing ev­ery­thing we could to over­come all that had led to this. We re­fused to give up.

LOOk­INg back to grow­ing up, we had never even heard of co­er­cive con­trol. Yet this had de­fined our en­tire ex­is­tence. It’s hard for any­one to be­lieve that a fa­ther would try to re­duce his fam­ily to slaves through his re­lent­less psy­cho­log­i­cal at­tacks. But it hap­pened to us.

It was when we were in our early teens that our fa­ther be­gan los­ing con­trol of his tem­per, over en­tirely triv­ial things. Or­di­nary life trapped him in a con­stant loop of anger. He would re­peat his anger in­def­i­nitely over some­thing as mi­nor as the fact that the ket­tle hadn’t been filled up.

He be­came like a bored prison guard, cur­tail­ing Mum’s free­dom by pre­vent­ing her ac­cess to a mo­bile phone and so­cial me­dia and restrict­ing her con­trol over her own earn­ings. Once we had left for uni­ver­sity, the only way we could speak to Mum was to call our fa­ther and ask to be put through to her.

If she tried to meet friends, he would ac­cuse her of les­bian ac­tiv­i­ties, or of hav­ing an af­fair. If she spent £3 on a cup of cof­fee, he would go on at her for weeks af­ter­wards, so even­tu­ally she stopped mak­ing plans to meet peo­ple.

The mis­ery he cre­ated out­weighed any en­joy­ment she might have had.

Mum had wanted to travel round Eu­rope with us, but our fa­ther hid her pass­port. Worst of all, when Ryan com­peted in a triathlon rep­re­sent­ing great Bri­tain in Turkey in 2013, our fa­ther re­fused to let her travel to watch. Ryan was dev­as­tated — the only rea­son he’d trained for it was to make her proud.

But be­cause we weren’t fail­ing at school and col­lege — quite the op­po­site — and didn’t have be­havioural prob­lems, no one saw that we were liv­ing a dif­fi­cult life. There was no phys­i­cal vi­o­lence, so even we didn’t recog­nise that our fa­ther was dan­ger­ous.

Out­side the home, our fa­ther’s be­hav­iour was ex­ces­sively friendly. He would bound around with en­ergy, laugh­ing, mak­ing jokes and gen­er­ally be­ing the light-hearted life and soul of the party.

See­ing him like this scared us, be­cause we knew about the du­plic­ity. We knew that the emo­tional ex­haus­tion of his per­for­mance would al­most cer­tainly leave us bear­ing the fall­out later.

BACk at home he spent his time mostly on his own, on his lap­top in the cor­ner of the liv­ing room, hid­ing in the world be­hind the screen. His only friends were those he had never met but had en­coun­tered on a chat-room some­where.

He once gave thou­sands of pounds of our sav­ings to some­one on the in­ter­net he had only ex­changed a cou­ple of mes­sages with, who claimed to be a stu­dent need­ing help with a loan. Yet he was never in­ter­ested in help­ing any of his own chil­dren.

Our fa­ther’s fi­nan­cial con­trol kept our fam­ily poor, so that we couldn’t sur­vive away from him.

He would even go on hol­i­days by him­self, such as a trip with a friend to Ni­a­gara Falls or to Spain. Yet he deemed the fam­ily dogs’ obe­di­ence train­ing, one of Char­lotte’s favourite hob­bies, too ex­pen­sive at £10 a week, and can­celled it.

When we left uni­ver­sity and be­gan earn­ing our own money, our fa­ther be­came even more jeal­ous and ag­gres­sive. He would charge us £20 per night to visit home.

Ob­ject­ing to his re­quest would have just in­curred fur­ther anger and rage, so we com­plied. In his mind the money we earned, just like Mum’s wages, be­longed to him.

As we told all th­ese sto­ries to po­lice li­ai­son of­fi­cers in the weeks fol­low­ing the mur­ders, we felt the old child­hood an­guish flood­ing back.

No one could have any idea of how we had suf­fered at the hands of our fa­ther — but there were plenty in the pub­lic and the me­dia pre­pared to take the side of a man who was essen­tially a ter­ror­ist and mur­derer.

Mur­der of women by men is of­ten de­fended and ex­cused as ‘snap­ping’, ‘flip­ping out’ or ‘a loss of con­trol’. But fol­low­ing our fam­ily’s tragedy, we came to re­alise that this is a fal­lacy.

What hap­pened that ter­ri­ble day was the re­sult of our fa­ther’s twisted mind­set, one of­ten found in men who be­lieve they have the right to con­trol women and chil­dren. When that priv­i­lege is threat­ened, as it was the day Mum left our fa­ther, they will kill in cold blood to re­in­force their dom­i­nance.

One in four women ex­pe­ri­ences do­mes­tic abuse, which means we prob­a­bly all know some­body who is, or was, af­fected. In fact, when we were se­cretly ar­rang­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion for Mum and Char­lotte, we were struck by how ex­pert the es­tate agents were at fa­cil­i­tat­ing es­capes like ours from abu­sive house­holds.

Up to 75 per cent of abused women who are mur­dered — like Mum and Char­lotte — are killed

af­ter they leave their part­ners, although the po­lice told us that our fa­ther had been plan­ning to kill his en­tire fam­ily, in­clud­ing both of us, for many weeks be­fore we left him. Trawl­ing our fa­ther’s com­puter, they dis­cov­ered he had been draft­ing the 12-page sui­cide note found in his car for months.

To put the huge prob­lem of do­mes­tic abuse into per­spec­tive, 136 UK ser­vice­men and women were killed dur­ing op­er­a­tions in Iraq and 405 in hos­tile ac­tions in Afghanistan up to the end of 2017. From 2009–15, in the safety of the UK, 936 women were killed as a re­sult of male vi­o­lence.

But vul­ner­a­ble women and chil­dren are not praised as he­roes for stand­ing up to their op­pres­sors. There is no na­tional day of mourn­ing for those brave women and chil­dren killed for con­tin­u­ing to love and live in a vi­o­lent home. And there is no recog­ni­tion for those silently suf­fer­ing in their dire cir­cum­stances. But we think there should be.

We have now made it our lives’ mis­sion both to high­light the prob­lem of hid­den do­mes­tic abuse and to chal­lenge the dan­ger­ous men­tal­ity that leads to co­er­cive con­trol.

We both now speak fre­quently at events and de­liver train­ing on co­er­cive con­trol and do­mes­tic abuse. So far we have trained over 400 po­lice of­fi­cers, po­lice com­mu­nity sup­port of­fi­cers and le­gal pro­fes­sion­als in the Crown Pros­e­cu­tion Ser­vice.

Now, two years on, we are re­build­ing our lives to­gether. We share a home with our beloved dogs and still feel the pres­ence of our mother and Char­lotte around us. We both know how in­cred­i­bly lucky we were to have had them in our life.

In fact, we of­ten re­flect on what a shame it is for those who did not know them.

When the best of us do not sur­vive in this bru­tal world, it is up to those who re­main to tell the mes­sage of their lives. Just as a light­house shines out to guide weary trav­ellers, our mother Claire and our sis­ter Char­lotte were our guid­ing lights and saved us.

We hope their mes­sage will save oth­ers. We hope our story will grasp the at­ten­tion needed for hon­est and open pub­lic de­bate about do­mes­tic abuse. Those who are cur­rently en­dur­ing it need us all to help them es­cape.

If you have any un­cer­tain­ties about your part­ner’s be­hav­iour, please check with the 24-hour Na­tional Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence freep­hone helpline which of­fers con­fi­den­tial sup­port, ad­vice and help on 0808 2000 247.

Adapted from OP­ER­A­TION LIGHT­HOUSE by Luke and Ryan Hart, pub­lished by Orion Spring at £12.99. © Luke & Ryan Hart 2018. To or­der a copy for £10.39 (of­fer valid to Nov 15, 2018), visit www.mail­ or call 0844 571 0640. P&P is free on or­ders over £15.

Fam­ily tragedy: Char­lotte Hart and her mother Claire were shot dead by Lance Hart (bot­tom right) who then shot him­self. Bot­tom left: Ryan (left) and Luke (right) with Char­lotte as a child

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