Penistone mother's fight for justice over Jack and Paul Sykes who were murdered by their abusive father in tragic house fire

The voices of two boys who did not want to see their estranged father were not heard until their own inquest after he murdered them, their mother has said.

Claire Throssell's world stopped turning on a day in October 2014, when her two sons Jack and Paul were locked in an attic by their father who had doused it in petrol and ignited it in a fatal act of punishment towards her.

The brothers, aged just nine and 12, had visited Darren Sykes' house in Penistone, Barnsley, after a family court ruled he should have five hours of contact with them a week, despite his history of abuse towards Ms Throssell in their marriage.

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Sykes lured the boys up to the attic with the promise of a new £600 train set, then propped a chair under the door handle as a fire tore through the house.

Domestic abuse survivor Claire Throssell with a picture of her sons Paul and Jack, who were murdered by their father Darren Sykes, Penistone

Nine-year-old Paul and his father died at the scene, while Jack was taken to hospital with smoke inhalation and passed away six days later.

The day Jack died, he had been due to have an interview as part of a report into Darren Sykes' capability of looking after the boys as part of his parents' divorce, with both having repeatedly expressed their wishes not to see him.

"The only time his wishes were heard was when he was cradled in the fireman’s arms," Ms Throssell said, speaking to The Yorkshire Post.

"He said, ‘my daddy did this – he did it on purpose’. I can only now, six years on, imagine what that fireman felt and still feels now.

Claire Throssell pictured with sons Paul (left) and Jack (right). Picture: SWNS

"The coroner took it as Jack’s dying testimony. So the only time Jack’s voice was heard was in the inquest into his own death."

Ms Throssell, 48, has thrown herself into campaigning and is currently lobbying the Government to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill so that children's voices are put at the heart of family court decisions.

Her petition to eradicate the presumption of contact between children and parents currently has nearly 75,000 signatures, and needs 100,000 to be raised in Parliament.

"The law says it is in the child’s best interests to see both parents [after separating]," Ms Throssell added.

Domestic abuse survivor Claire Throssell with a picture of her sons Paul and Jack, who were murdered by their father Darren Sykes, Penistone

"This needs to change. It is only in their best interests if it’s safe to do so. The Government has promised to review this, but it’s not enough.

"In South Yorkshire, six children including Jack and Paul have died as a result of familicide since 2014. That’s one a year. And the figures are still growing, so a review will do nothing and children will keep dying.

"We are also looking for an immediate ban on cross questioning in a family court. In theory, you can question your ex-partner in court - even after being convicted of domestic abuse - in order to keep the rights to see your children. I find it incredible that this is allowed."

A pillar of strength, Ms Throssell weathered 11 years of abuse from her ex-husband, who she only now refers to as "it".

Scene of fatal house fire at Tennyson Close, Penistone, which Darren Sykes started deliberately as an act of murder suicide which also killed his sons. Picture: SWNS

Still based in Penistone, she currently is an ambassador for Women's Aid and features in a documentary aired this evening as today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The special programme will highlight the issue of familicide and the risk to women and children from abusive partners.

She also continues to raise awareness of abusive relationships to ensure no other woman has to experience what she has gone through, attributing her fight to Jack and Paul.

"Police always say they can’t profile these people, but they can," she explained.

"Every woman you speak to who has been a victim of an abusive relationship will say, ‘my ex used to do this’ and you realise the similarities between abusers.

"My ex sent a rose to my work for three weeks until I said I would go out with him. Then the coercive control starts.

"As time goes on, friends start to stop asking you to come out and you end up isolated from friends and family. Then, one day, you turn around and look in the mirror and don’t even recognise yourself anymore.

Claire Throssell pictured at Parliament in 2018 during her campaign to put children's voices at the heart of family court decisions. Picture: PA

"I felt like a piece of dirt underneath the world’s shoe and going out I felt as if everyone looked down on me.

"Even now, whenever I walk into the Houses of Parliament, there’s always that doubtful voice saying, ‘who are you to be challenging these people?’ It’s like I can still hear his voice at the back of my mind saying, ‘you can’t fight this’."

Calls to domestic abuse charities have surged this year during the lockdown, and although the Government has said people can leave home if they are not safe, many victims with children will feel as though they have few options.

Ms Throssell added: "We hugely overlook the risk to children from domestic abuse.

"The more we raise awareness and challenge the organisations failing to protect the most vulnerable people in society, the smaller the hiding places abusers have.

"If one person reads this or sees the documentary and thinks, ‘that’s my relationship - that’s what my partner is like’, if just one person changes their life or manages to get out of that situation, we could have saved a further two or three lives."

Family Man, narrated by Anita Rani, will be aired tonight at 9pm on Crime + Investigation as part of the channel's #HereForHer initiative, raising awareness of domestic abuse.

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