Every Single Day I Wish I'd Died in the Water with My Kids. I Am Just as Much to Blame as My Boyfriend; AS LOVER IS JAILED, TORMENTED LAGOON TRAGEDY MUM TELLS HER STORY.(News)
Byline: MAGGIE O'RIORDAN
IT is a moment Clair Armstrong relives time and time again. She is sitting in the back of the car with her three children - who are beaming with happiness as the family arrives to paddle and picnic at a local beauty spot.
Clair smiles as she recalls how Imran, six, and Aaron, five were both clutching Action Man dolls and that three-year-old Sharla looked angelic in her floral dungarees.
But then her face twists with pain as she remembers what happened next.
For reasons that are still not completely clear the car - driven by Clair's long-term boyfriend Courtney Barker - sped off the top of the cliff where they parked and plunged 16ft into the dark, icy water of the lake below.
A few seconds later, Courtney, Clair and fellow passenger Ryan Purdy bobbed up to the surface gasping for breath.
Three hours later the lifeless bodies of Imran, Aaron and Sharla were pulled from the water.
Two days ago, Courtney, 23, was sentenced to five years in prison after a jury at Luton Crown Court found him guilty of three counts of manslaughter.
Earlier the court had heard that he did not have a driving licence, and had failed to tax or insure the Vauxhall Astra estate which he'd bought for pounds 300 from a back-street garage.
Some eyewitnesses claimed to have seen him "showing off" and holding the car door open with his right leg - so that he would have had just one foot on the pedals as the car sped towards the edge of the cliff.
The judge who sentenced him called his behaviour "little short of insane". Clair, 23, denies this. Her love for Courtney has never faltered - and she did not want him to go to prison. She says: "If Courtney deserves to be punished then so should I. I was in the car that day, and knew he had no driving licence.
"I also knew he was the safest and most cautious driver in the world. I would not have put my children in a car with him if I thought otherwise."
And she adds: "I am stuck on July 28 last year, the day all my babies were stolen from me. I am trapped within that awful moment.
"I don't live, I just breathe. The emptiness is indescribable. Every day, I just wish I'd died in the water with my children and I know Courtney wishes he'd died too."
Courtney was not the children's real father as they were from a previous relationship.
But Clair insists: "Courtney loved those kids and would never do anything in the world to harm them."
And she reveals: "He has asked me to marry him and I have said yes. Would I do that if I thought he did anything irresponsible to cause the deaths of my kids? If I believed he did anything wrong, I would kill him myself.
"They did nothing wrong in their short lives. Why were they taken? Why were we spared? No one knows.
"I will have to try even harder to block out the memory of what happened that day. What mother could stand to constantly re-live the moment when she watched her babies die before her very eyes? The water was so cold and dark. It was like being thrown into a filthy washing machine."
Dissolving into tears, she adds: "Now I wake up in the morning thinking I can hear their toy cars whizzing across the carpets. Then I remember they are no longer here, that my mind is playing tricks on me.
"I used to be woken up every morning by the three of them. Now the first thing I do when I open my eyes is remind myself they're dead. It's misery upon misery."
Courtney's mother Charmaine Standen, who views Clair as a daughter-in-law, supports her throughout the interview.
Clair stares into space, her arms wrapped tightly around herself as she takes us back to the day when her whole world fell apart.
Her lip quivers as she describes what should have been a carefree summer afternoon, away from the grim landscape of the Marsh Farm estate in Luton where she had lived with Courtney and the children in a council house for four years. …