Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Fighting for Victims of Abuse in Memory of My Gemma

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Fighting for Victims of Abuse in Memory of My Gemma

Article excerpt

Byline: By Jennifer Bradbury

A major conference on domestic violence is to take place in the North East. Jennifer Bradbury spoke to a victim who knows more than most about the issue

Eleven years ago, grieving family and friends gathered to say their final farewells to pregnant teenager Gemma Graham.

Mourners wept and clung on to each other for support as Father Thomas Donnelly talked of the loss of Gemma and her unborn baby Oliver at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Chopwell, Gateshead.

It was an emotional and immensely distressing day for everyone, especially for Maggie Thompson, who had lost both her daughter and her grandchild.

It was even harder to come to terms with as their deaths came after Gemma, just 19, was bludgeoned to death with a home-made club by her boyfriend at the home they shared in Blackhall Mill, Chopwell.

In the following court case, Steven Waters, also 19 at the time, denied murdering his girlfriend, who was 16 weeks pregnant, but was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six years at a young offenders' institution.

Those were terrible, anguished days which left Maggie, now 50, feeling not just devastated but bitterly angry at what she claims was the unjustifiable character assassination on her daughter in court.

She said: "The impression given was that what happened to her was her own fault."

And although she has no proof, Maggie's as certain as she can be that her daughter's death was a direct result of domestic violence.

"It must have been the first time he'd hit her. If it wasn't then I never picked up on it, I hadn't a clue."

Which is ironic because Maggie was perfectly placed to pick up on such abuse, having been a victim herself, twice.

In the past she has been punched and kicked and even hospitalised with head injuries.

It was more than 30 years ago that Maggie, who has three daughters, first became a victim. Back then abuse, whether physical or mental, was deemed `domestic' and dismissed.

When Maggie first sought help she recalls being told to be a good girl, be a good wife, and have his tea on the table.

"The implication was that if I didn't, I'd get another good hiding."

But Maggie was strong and despite the disapproval of friends and family she tore herself away from these abusive relationships, became a mature student, and in 1984 moved with her children from her home in Lancashire to the North East.

Which goes some way to explaining why Maggie, a bubbly, seemingly happy and fulfilled woman, is so fervent about getting domestic violence to the top of the political agenda.

Maggie's also averse to the term domestic violence, preferring to call it domestic abuse.

"Domestic violence conjures up a picture of the physical when a lot of the time it's mental and emotional, and much harder to get over. …

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