It is 18 months since Claire Throssell’s world collapsed when her ex husband killed their two sons. Thanks to local people she has started to rebuild her life. Catherine Scott reports
It is the stuff of nightmares.
Two young boys killed in a house fire started deliberately by their father in a bid to get back at the boys’ mother.
But for Claire Throssell it was reality. For six days she nursed her eldest son Jack, 12, as he battled for life. But his injuries from the house fire which killed his nine-year-old brother Paul and his father Darren Sykes, were too great and he too died.
Claire Throssell lost everything that day.
Darren also left her with huge debts as he had cancelled the house insurance and so she was left to pay the mortgage.
“I held Jack in my arms and his last words were: ‘Dad did this to us, dad did this on purpose.’”
Claire’s story touched the Penistone community who rallied round after a call to arms from the Father David Hopkin.
The last 18 months have seen volunteers rebuild the family home which this week went on the market.
“It is like a phoenix rising out of the ashes and I feel a bit like that, “ says Claire, who is currently living in a one bedroomed flat in Penistone.
“I find it so humbling that so many people have done so much for me over the last 18 months, I am not sure I could have got through it without such amazing and generous support from so many people who have done so much for me.
“We also had a lot of happy times in that house and now it is another family’s turn to make some happy memories there.
“Don’t get me wrong there are dark times, especially in the hours before dawn when it is too frightening to look to the future and too painful to look to the past, it would be simple to take the easy way out, but then I would be letting my boys down.”
Jack and Paul were killed after they were lured to the house by their father who had just bought a new model train set. He had been granted access to the children by the courts after the couple divorced a few weeks earlier.
He barricaded them in the attic and then ignited petrol he had put through the house on October 22, 2014.
“The last I saw of my loving sons was when I took them to school and I said ‘love you’ and they replied as they always did ‘love you to infinity and back, mum.’ I do take some comfort in the fact the last words we said to each other were loving one. I cringe sometimes at the school gates when I see parents shouting at their children, and I just hope they won’t regret it.”
Claire has had those last words tattooed on her chest close to her heart in ink containing some of the boys’ ashes. ]
An inquest found that the boys had been unlawfully killed and their father had committed suicide.
Claire says she won’t ever truly be able to move forward until family law courts change the way they operate. “I want to see the family courts take into account the wishes of the children.”
She says that she raised concerns about the boys seeing their father, but a court order gave him access.
A serious case review has since found that CAFCASS - Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service - should have considered suspending Darren’s contact with his children.
“They didn’t take my concerns seriously, they just thought it was another custody battle. They have said they will implement changes, but that is too late for my boys. But that is why I am still fighting for change in the law, so that the voices of children, like my boys can be heard and put back at the centre of family courts.”
As well as the support from the local community and beyond, Claire has coped with her grief by setting up a charity in her sons’ memory.
Heads Together For Barnsley aims to help local children and families going through trauma. “Jack and Paul were such loving boys who worked so much better when their heads were together. Paul was a runner and Jack was a musician, they had dreams which were cruelly taken from them. Some children are too frightened to dream. If Paul and Jack can inspire them to be the best they can be then at least something positive to focus on after something so so negative.”
One of the people deeply moved by Claire’s tragic story was Barnsley best selling author Milly Johnson. “I have two sons and when I heard on the news about what had happened to those two little boys I just couldn’t imagine something so horrific happening. We just hoped that Jack would pull through and Claire would have something, but it wasn’t to be. It was like reading a horror story, but it was true. Not only had she lost her children but she was still having to pay the mortgage on the house they were killed in.I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I thought this man has wanted to destroy her life and he will have done if people don’t help.
“I can’t lay tiles or anything practical like that to rebuild her house, but I can write. One of my books is set in Penistone and I often get asked to right a sequel which I never do. So I thought why not do a short story, let people download it for 99p with all the money going to Claire.”
Both her agents and publisher have waived their fees and the ebook The Barn on Half Moon Hill goes on sale on May 19.
“I can’t believe what Milly is doing for me,” says Claire. “She is yet another person who has made me feel so loved
Selling the house means Claire will be able to buy a small cottage and start to rebuild her shattered life. “The boys used to say wherever I was was home. I’m not sure I’ll be able to call anywhere home without them.”
But she eternally grateful for all the help she has been given.
“When I held I held them in my arms and they took their last breath they left with love and they left love behind. That’s what I feel for the people who have supported me.”
Milly Johnson’s short story The Barn on Half Moon Hill published in ebook on 19th May 2016 by Simon & Schuster for £0.99 with all proficts going to help Claire Throsell is avaiable to preorder from all ebook retailers.
“Every penny will go to Claire to help her. Not for any charity she has set up to help others, this money is for her to spend on sofas, curtains, holiday… for the lifetime of the book,” says Milly
To donate to the Care for Claire fund visit https://www.gofundme.com/qe57bgg
To find out more about Claire Throsell’s charity visit www.facebook.com/headstogetherbarnsley/