Luke and Ryan Hart‘We didn’t see it as domestic abuse because we weren’t being hit.’

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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Luke and Ryan Hart’s father never hit them. But they now realise they grew up in an abusive household. Two years ago, following the murder of their mother Claire and sister Charlotte at the hands of their father, they began an awareness campaign about the dangers of coercive control. They both joined Ryan Tubridy to tell their story.

Luke and Ryan grew up on a farmhouse in rural Cambridgeshire in England. It seemed “idyllic”, Luke says. They played outside, grew vegetables. But now they look back on that time and see it as a “move of isolation”. Their father liked knowing where everyone was.

“We had very limited influence from the outside and our extended family weren’t permitted to come visit us.”

Their father controlled the family’s finances, rationing their mother’s wages back to her and limiting their contact with the outside world.

“He didn’t like us having freedom. He insisted on knowing everything that we were doing and he made excuses perpetually why we couldn’t do things and one of the ones that was really common was he would claim we didn’t have enough money for fuel…and we found a lot of excuses were to do with money.”

The issue of money wasn’t a lie, exactly. The family did not have much disposable income to their name. But Ryan believes this was intentional. His father was gambling, giving away money to friends and going on solo holidays.

I think he knew that if we had savings, that was an avenue that we could use to escape if we needed to.

Luke remembers that his father “despised” that their mother had a job, at a local supermarket.

“He would often go to work and peer on her from behind counters and ring up and try and check that she was at work…He wanted to make sure that our mother was exactly where he knew she was all the time.”

When Luke and Ryan left for University, the level of control their father had over their mother became clearer, especially in contrast to what they would see in their new University friends’ families.

We weren’t allowed to contact our mother unless it was through our father and our father would sit and listen to every conversation that we had...He refused to allow our mother to have any technology. So, our Mum didn’t have a phone. She wasn’t allowed a mobile phone. She wasn’t allowed social media. She wasn’t even allowed on the internet.”

Ryan described a time when his mother had a friend over for tea. His father sat in the kitchen with them, silently, listening to their conversation.

“He just made it so uncomfortable that my Mum never invited anyone round again.”

Their father’s use of the internet became obsessive, Ryan says. He found forums and message boards where people shared his views.

“If we had different views on politics, on the world, that made him angry. He tried to force every part of him onto us. His emotional side, his beliefs, his psychological side.”

Claire had Multiple Sclerosis. Ryan and Luke knew that realistically, she couldn’t support all of them if she left their father. By the time they finished University, Ryan and Luke had saved enough money to rent an apartment for Claire and Charlotte away from their father. And one day, when they knew he would be away for a few hours, they piled their mother, Charlotte, the two family dogs and whatever possessions they could grab quickly into a van. They left.

“It felt like for once in our lives, the future was ours to make.”

They now understand that during this time, even before Claire and Charlotte left, their father had “started to feel his grip loosening”. Police would learn that, for months, he had been searching online for articles and statistics about men who kill their wives. 

Just days after they had moved out, their father followed Claire and Charlotte to a swimming pool car park in Spalding, where he shot both of them before killing himself. He died instantly. Claire and Charlotte died minutes later, enough time for a manager at the swimming centre to hear Charlotte’s last words as he tried to save her life:

“My father shot me.”

The aftermath of Claire and Charlotte’s deaths was a flurry of confused, contradictory reporting in the media, Luke says. Both he and Ryan were dismayed that some outlets seemed to be implying that their father was a model family man who had been driven to the edge by the prospect of divorce.

“Our father behaved very differently towards other people… we were really shocked to find that a lot of the media reports were asking people outside of the home about the relationship he had with us…these people were eulogising our father.”

Ryan Tubridy asked whether Ryan and Luke feel hard done by that, by killing himself at the scene, their father did not face trial. Luke has a different definition of justice.

“Fundamentally, I think justice for us isn’t, you know, putting someone behind bars or whatever. Justice is having a life that is worth leading and living. And I think that our father had the justice of having a miserable life.”

Ryan and Luke will be in Ireland speaking at the Safe Ireland World Summit next month.

“The only thing that our Mum and sister would want from us is for us to have a life that’s worth living…Trying to talk about domestic abuse, trying to talk about particularly the controlling and coercive part of it that we didn’t understand and trying to raise awareness, that – for the moment for us – is our meaning.”

Listen back to the whole interview on The Ryan Tubridy Show here.

© The Listener 2018

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