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“I spent 21 years of feeling grateful and thankful for every extra day that I got to spend with my mum”

A photo of Jacqueline Kirk before she was attacked
Jacqueline Kirk
There is 1 related update to this story

The following statements were written by Jacqueline Kirk’s two children, Shane and Sonna, and were read out at Bristol Crown Court today (Thursday 10 November) as Steven Craig was sentenced to life in prison for her murder.

Shane’s statement

During my early teenage years, I would describe my relationship with my mum as close and loving. Mum was a strong-minded person and there were occasions when she made some life choices that I felt were wrong, but she was my mum and so I never let this affect the way that I felt about her. When I was 16-years-old, I decided to move out of mum’s house and into my own accommodation. My sister Sonna would have only been about seven-years-old at that time and remained living with mum. I stayed in regular contact with mum and Sonna and would often take Sonna to school.

In 1995 my mum began a relationship with a man called Steven Craig. Mum tried to hide the details of this relationship from me and so at the beginning I never really knew Steven at all. Slowly over time my mum began to change and by 1996 I had a better understanding of their relationship. Mum had lost weight and her life was quite chaotic. Sonna was spending more time with me, and I remember her coming to visit me and then shortly after finding out that she was in floods of tears telling mum that wanted to come and live with me, I then realised how bad my mum’s relationship was with Steven and later learnt from Sonna that she had witnessed so many terrible things that she never see at such a young age.

What followed was a sequence of events that made a real impact on my life and the choices that I made. Sonna came to live with me permanently and I would eventually become her legal guardian. I was still just 21 years old and so it felt like I had grown up very fast.

In 1998 I remember the police coming to the house, but I can’t remember what they said. After the police left, I made arrangements for my sister to stay with a friend and went to the hospital. I went into the room where my mum was being treated and I saw my mum for the first time. I immediately began to cry but remember thinking very vividly that this can’t be real and that the person in the bed wasn’t my mum. I sat with my mum for a couple of hours where I felt disconnected from her, how could this person hooked up to all these machines and completely covered in bandages be my mum?

I can remember saying goodbye, it felt like I had already lost her. On the way home all I could think about was how to tell my sister.

Frenchay hospital was a long two/three hour bus journey each way, I hated that we could only visit once a week. Even though she was unrecognisable, and she could not speak, slowly week by week her personality and character shined through, and she slowly became our mum again.

Eventually she could leave the hospital, she was scared and excited. She struggled to climb the stairs up to her flat, so she wouldn’t go out. When she did leave the flat people would cross over to the other side of the road to avoid her, or shout “freak”.

Her scars itched her so much, it drove her crazy, she used to think there were bugs crawling under her skin. I would find her hysterically pulling up carpets, even using a hammer to bash holes in the wall’s, convinced bugs were hiding in the wall cavities. I would try to calm her down, most of the time this just made her more frustrated and angry, so I would join her, and we would spend an afternoon hunting bugs around the flat.

Every day was a struggle, eating was really hard, food would get stuck and then she would have a coughing fit. Often, she would cough so violently her tracheostomy tube would fly out, then it had to be cleaned, before she could put it back in.

She found a way to talk again but was very quiet and sometimes we couldn’t understand her. She found this so frustrating. Then there were the countless visits to the doctors and in and out of hospital with chest infections.

In the first few years after she left Frenchay hospital I would go and see her most days, to clean up, help with shopping, cooking and walking the dog, if she was too ill to do so herself.

A photo of Jackie with her dog Molly
Jackie with her dog Molly

She hardly ever complained about all the things that she found hard in life; however, she once told me that it felt like she was always in pain. It was not just physical; she would find it hard to sleep and when she did, she would have nightmares. She often got very down and suffered from depression.

Mum struggled with her memory often forgetting things and was very easily distracted. One minute you would be taking to her and the next she was somewhere else. We would joke, “that’s our mum always away with the fairy’s”, and we loved her for it, but I know it used to frustrate her so much. We would be together at home or out somewhere, she would get distracted and before she knew it the time was gone. She got so angry with herself for missing things.

My mum was always artistic, and she loved to paint and use pastels but after the burns she couldn’t paint any more. Instead, she found photography and from that moment on she was always behind a camera.

A photo of Jackie with her camera taking a picture of a kite
Jackie with her camera

She got a dog and made new friends. She watched me and Sonna grow up, get married and have children of our own. All the struggles were still there but it was just her life now. In the first few years every time she was admitted to hospital it felt like that could be it. Eventually this became normal, and she would always pull through, she was such a fighter.

My sister phoned when our mum was admitted to hospital for the last time. Sonna told me that this time it wasn’t good, and her condition was critical, and I needed to come to hospital now. Even though Sonna had just old me this I remember thinking to myself “she will pull through as she always does.” Once at the hospital Sonna and I sat by mum’s bedside, and we held her hand as she passed away.

Mum was just 40 years old when she was burnt, but she managed to find her voice again after being told she would never talk. She beat all the odds and went on to have over 20 more years that I will always be grateful for. I will always feel that mum should and could have had and done so much more in her life, but Steven Craig has taken her from our lives too soon.

A photograph of a sunflower taken by Jackie
A photograph of a sunflower taken by Jackie
A photograph of a dragonfly taken by Jacqueline Kirk
A photograph of a dragonfly taken by Jacqueline Kirk

Sonna’s statement

In 1998 I was just 13-years-old and living with my brother Shane who was 22-years-old. He was my legal guardian. I was told the news that my mum had been badly burnt and was unlikely to survive. Me and my brother were told that mummy was in an induced coma to keep her free from pain. We were told that her face was bandaged up and there were tubes coming out of her. On hearing this I didn’t want to visit her as I was afraid of what I might see. I was also worried that my last memory of my mum would be an unrecognisable person to the mum I knew and loved.

A month passed and mummy was still alive. We were told to hope and see if she would recover. Mummy was now out of the induced coma, and I was then taken to visit her for the first time. We took three bus journeys to Frenchay Hospital and shown into the burns ward. I was still just 13 years old. Me and Shane were greeted by a nurse who told us to prepare ourselves.

I knew she would be burnt and hard to recognise but when I walked into her room, I had to take the nurses word for this as the person I saw sitting in the bed was my mum as it looked nothing like her. I did my best to hide my shock and gave her a cuddle, but this person just didn’t look like my mum. She had a very skinny body, hardly any hair and a patchy face. She had tight skin on her face, no lips and just a slit for a mouth. She had no nostrils, and the scar tissue that pulled tight across her face was pulling her bottom eyelids down. She looked like an alien.

We sat on her bed and she wrote on a notepad as she had no voice with just a tube in her throat so she could breathe. Her voice box was stuck together. As we sat on her bed she began to write and though messy it looked like my mums writing. The words she wrote also sounded like what my mum would say. I looked at her feet, her toes were my mum’s toes and I knew then that this was my mum. I remember thinking that this was absurd that the only way I could recognise my mum was by her toes.

For nearly a year, once a week I left school early so my brother and I could catch the three buses to visit mummy. We didn’t really know what had happened to her and how she became burnt, just she had survived because of the many operations and skin grafts. When mummy became strong enough to be discharged home, we were told that her life expectancy would be less that ten years due to the complications that had come from her restricted airway and tracheoscopy.

I spent my remaining teenage years building a new relationship with my mum, but at the same time I was constantly worrying that she was ok. Mum spent a lot of time coughing with multiple chest infections and was in and out of hospital all the time. All the while I had a ten year count down in the back of my head where I worried that she was going to die at any time.

The dynamic of our relationship had now changed and I had to be the responsible one, the one that worried. As an adult I got to see mum thrive more. She was able to get out of her flat and visit her friends more and also walk her dog Molly who I know was a huge comfort to her during that time. Mum also got to see me live too, but I always felt that I needed to stay close. I regret not being able to talk to her more, to have those deep and meaningful conversations. It was difficult to hear and understand her and she became so frustrated having to repeat herself again and again and so we kept the conversations short.

I missed having a mum that could care for me. I missed having a mum that I would do anything with. She couldn’t go swimming and the fear of falling in the water and drowning due to the tracheoscopy meant that we couldn’t go on boats.

I always felt like I had to prepare everyone who was planning on visiting mum so that they wouldn’t be shocked. I was always over prepared if me and mum went out, making sure I had packed everything that she needed like tissues for her constant cough, straws to drink and food that was small enough to fit into her mouth where the scar tissue had prevented her from opening her mouth.

In 2019 I had a message from my mum and her partner telling me that she was struggling to breath. On arrive to the hospital mum was in resus which is an area that the patient could die at any moment. I saw mum on a trolley with an oxygen mask on her tracheoscopy and another oxygen mask on her face. Two masks, this was a desperate attempt to try and give her enough oxygen to be able breath. From my own professional medical experience, I looked at the monitors and listened to the specialist medical professionals around me and I knew that they were struggling to keep my mum alive. I tried to help as a nurse with mum’s oxygen but was told by the senior consultant to stop being a nurse and just be a daughter.

I tried to hold my mum up to help her breath and hold her legs to stop her from getting off the trolley. I was cradling my mum like a baby, watching her eyes roll back into her head. She looked like she was going to crash at any moment. The consultant then passed a tube into her stomach to release the trapped air so that her lungs had room to breathe and I then realised that we had again passed a corner and she was stable to be transferred to ITU.

The following day I took both of my children to visit my mum. My children were just seven and four years old. As a nurse I understood how complicated it was to treat her because of her burns and how critical she was. This was because of the scar tissue both inside and outside her body. At that time, though I wasn’t so worried as she always seemed to bounce back.

On the 23 August 2019 during the early hours I was home and in bed asleep when I received a telephone call. It was the hospital and I immediately knew that my mum was going to die because of the timing of the call and that they would not have contacted me unless there was a real need. I was told that there was nothing more that they could do for my mum.

My husband rushed me into the hospital and I was joined by my brother. I spoke with the doctor and then went to see my mum. My mum had monitor leads attached to her and oxygen equipment attached to her tracheoscopy and face. She was struggling to breathe and she couldn’t talk so had to communicate with me by writing on a notepad. It was at that moment I had my last conversation with her and I asked her what she wanted to do. My mum wrote back on her pad “AM I DYING”. I told her she was as I felt I needed to be honest with her and I felt she needed to know as she had been through so much. I wanted to give the her the choice to live or to die and my mum then wrote back “GIVE ME LOTS OF DRUGS”.

It was soon after this that my mum slipped out of consciousness and she died with me and Shane by her bedside holding her hand.

Jacqueline Kirk with her daughter, Sonna, before she was attacked
Jacqueline Kirk with her daughter, Sonna, before she was attacked

I spent 21 years of feeling grateful and thankful for every extra day that I got to spend with my mum. From the very beginning when I was told that she would likely die she managed to surprise everyone and come through so much. She was able to see me grow up into an adult where I got married and then went on to have children and so she became nanny Jackie.

It’s has been three years since my mum died and during that time part of my life has been on hold because I haven’t had complete closure. I have also had to deal with the emotional trauma of going through a second trial, only this time my mum is no longer with me.