When the police knocked on my door back in October, it had been eight years since my mother was laid to rest. The details that I heard that evening brought everything back to me about losing her: the grief, the heartbreak, the utter loss. But they also filled my head with horrific images I have not been able to shift ever since, pictures no human should ever have to contemplate.
The first thing I thought after those two officers left my house was that it would have been better if I had never known. Weeks on, I feel that more than ever because the wickedness of what David Fuller did in that mortuary to my mother, to young children, to all those loved ones, is just impossible for any of us to comprehend.
I have not been able to sleep since that night, not properly, because every time I close my eyes, those pictures that the darkest parts of my brain have conjured up are there. Sometimes I just switch the light on and sit for hours looking at photographs of Mum, the ones where she is laughing, fooling around with her friends, or sitting with her beloved grandchildren on her lap – that smile of hers I loved. I miss her, the touch of her hand, her hugs, her reassurance. It kills me to think of Fuller’s hands over her in that hospital mortuary to which he had access from his work in electrical maintenance.
My mum died after a short illness. She was in her 50s, in what should have been the prime of her life after years spent raising her family and working hard. My four siblings and I were left shell-shocked by her death. You never get over losing your mum. But you move on; you have to for the sake of your own children, you comfort yourself with happy memories – or at least I did until the police arrived at my door.
I recall the police were dressed in plain clothes, explaining they were from the Serious Crime Unit, and clutching a folder with details inside of something they called Operation Sandpiper. When they started explaining why they were there, I had to leave the room. I was physically sick. They told us Fuller had been arrested for the murders in 1987 of Wendy Knell and Caroline Pierce in my town of Tunbridge Wells. I was a child in the 1980s but I remember those killings. I have female friends who were teenagers at the time, who worked in local shops. I remember how afraid they were about walking home alone, of someone watching them. That story has haunted this town, yet all the time the killer was walking among us. Worse still, he was in the place alongside the most vulnerable in society.
David Fuller has admitted killing Wendy Knell, left, and Caroline Pierce
It took me days after the police had gone to look inside the folder they left, as I was so scared of what information might be inside. I couldn’t bear to hear more details. I got my partner to look first. Inside, there were letters from the police, from victim support and from Miles Scott, the chief executive of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (Fuller’s abuse took place in the mortuaries inside the Kent and Sussex Hospital and the Tunbridge Hospital from 2008 until 2020).
In Scott’s letter, he said: ‘Losing a loved one is always difficult and I know that what you have been told today by police will be extremely distressing.’
That didn’t even begin to cover it.
Scott’s letter assured families that they had ‘strengthened and reviewed’ security measures at the mortuary and he had commissioned an independent and formal investigation, though I believe what is needed is a public inquiry. I never blamed the hospital, though friends I confided in told me I should. They argued that the hospital had a duty of care to the dead as well as the living, that those women and children should have been protected. But I asserted that the hospital itself had been one of Fuller’s victims too. Perhaps there were those who noticed he spent a lot of time in the mortuary, but they could never have imagined in their worst nightmares what he was doing there.
We know the police were able to identify 78 victims because Fuller kept notes, photos and videos of himself abusing them, but there were 20 more they haven’t been able to identify. They put a name to my mum among them from her hospital tag.
I had this horrific fear that those images have ended up somewhere on the dark web; I asked police, though they reassured me they had employed experts in that field who found no evidence of that.
The police told me it was a panel of judges who had decided whether to inform the families. How many times have I wished that decision went the other way, that I could just remember Mum as I knew her and not what Fuller did to her? The answer is every single day since the day I was told.
I have asked myself in these past few weeks whether it would have been better if we had never known, if Fuller’s crimes had been covered up by the police – after all, he would have gone to prison for life for the murders anyway, perhaps they did the searches of his hard drive a little too well that day. Yet, it is an impossible question, if we had never known our loved ones would never have got justice, and his depravity did help secure his murder convictions for the families of Caroline Pierce and Wendy Knell, who have suffered for the past three decades.
If the police had not told us as families of the individuals, perhaps we would have been in a worse position of just guessing whether our relative was one that he had abused – that is going to be how a lot of people are feeling right now because the notes and videos Fuller kept are perhaps only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the true scale of his crimes. The police have acknowledged his victims could run into the hundreds. But as one who knows for certain that their family member was abused, I can promise there is no peace in knowing, only devastation. Instead I go back to my own photographs of Mum, the happier times, it works sometimes to push those other evil images away. But not always. And the worst thing is, they will be there forever.
My only comfort is that Mum knew nothing of what was being done to her in that hospital mortuary. I had just had a baby a few months before she died, and my partner told me on the night she passed away he saw a figure of Mum bent over our daughter’s cot. That gives me some comfort, that Mum had long departed her human body by the time Fuller got his hands on her. Sadly for the families of Caroline Pierce and Wendy Knell that was not the case.
As told to Anna Wharton