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When pregnant teen Jayden Parkinson’s violent ex-boyfriend killed and buried her in 2013, police said it was “one of the most disturbing cases in living memory”.
Her mum Samantha, 54, has fought for a register of domestic abusers, something that might have saved Jayden. Last month, the House Of Lords passed an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill – in the wake of the tragic death of Sarah Everard.
Here, Samantha, from Oxfordshire, opens up about losing Jayden and not wanting her death to be in vain…
As news spread of the disappearance of Sarah Everard earlier this month, I felt increasingly sick. And when her remains were found a week later, my blood boiled in fury.
I wept for Sarah’s poor, grieving mother and wanted to hug her, knowing all too well the unique agony she’s in right now.
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In December 2013, my own daughter, Jayden, was just 17 when she went missing. She’d been killed by her violent ex-boyfriend, Ben Blakeley. He’d taken her to a field where – I later learned in court – he’d strangled her three times. She regained consciousness twice, but the third time he squeezed the life out of her. She was pregnant with his child.
I have to talk about her murder in a matter-of-fact way, otherwise I’d cry and cry and never stop. Ben, the former bin man who killed my baby girl, will serve 20 years in jail. But I have a life sentence of grief ahead of me.
Born in September 1996, Jayden was my youngest child, a little sister for Sharday, then six, and Boyd, then three. She was beautiful, strong-willed, our “tomboy in a tutu”.
However, behind closed doors, my husband was domestically abusing me. I managed to leave him, but I wonder if growing up seeing her father act violently towards me meant Jayden viewed abusive men as normal.
As a teen, Jayden could be wayward. I sent her to a girls’ school near our home in Didcot, Oxfordshire, hoping to keep her on the straight and narrow. But when she was 15 she started meeting some lads from the boys’ school.
One of them, Jake, had an older brother, Ben Blakeley, then 20. They started hanging out, coming over for pizza, smuggling in cider. Typical teenage stuff.
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Jayden liked Ben. When he said he wouldn’t touch her sexually until she was legally allowed, she fancied him even more. She thought he was being gallant.
Then, aged 16, she became his girlfriend. Initially, he seemed OK and was polite enough. I warned him, “She’s my baby, look after her.”
“I will, Mrs Parkinson,” he assured me. “I’ll keep her safe.”
But Ben soon revealed his true colours. On a family holiday to France at Christmas in 2012, Jayden spent most of the time sobbing on the phone to Ben. He’d slept with her friend. She was distraught. I told her to ditch him, but she was miserable and her holiday was ruined. That was our last Christmas.
Jayden grew more under his control, while Ben grew more violent. One time, he punched her after seeing her get in a car with other men. The next day he came over, and when I refused him entry into the flat he spat in my face. I gave Jayden an ultimatum – him or me. But it backfired. She chose him.
Later that afternoon, Jayden nipped out of the house for a cigarette and I didn’t see her again for two weeks. He’d met her outside.
She was too young to claim benefits and yet too old for the police to make her come home. She and Ben slept rough and it became hard to contact her. He cut up her SIM card and broke her phone. He also threatened to post naked videos of her online.
He even killed two of our cats, threatening Jayden that if she told anyone, he’d kill me too. She was terrified.
In November 2013, a month before her death, she plucked up the courage to flee to the One Foot Forward hostel. While there, she discovered she was pregnant. She talked of going to a mother and baby unit then returning to college one day.
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She was planning a future. But when she left the hostel on 3 December 2013 to tell Ben she was expecting, Jayden never returned.
Whenever she’d run away previously, Jayden had always got in touch within 48 hours. She’d left the hostel with nothing – no deodorant, toothbrush or clean knickers. I knew in my gut something was wrong.
The police got involved. I couldn’t eat, sleep or think straight. I knew what was coming when the police gently told me, on 13 December, they were treating Jayden’s disappearance as a murder investigation. An announcement on TV followed. Truthfully, this period is all a blur.
I was rattling with the amount of pills the GP put me on to cope. Soon, Ben and his brother Jake were arrested. Then, on 18 December, two weeks after she went missing, Jayden’s body was found. Bizarrely, she had been buried in Ben’s uncle’s grave.
When the police brought me the news, I apparently collapsed, had an epileptic fit and was put in an ambulance.
I was only allowed to say goodbye when I had to identify Jayden’s body. It had started to decompose, so a sheet was pulled high and she looked as if she was sleeping with her hair wrapped in a bandage. I hated her being cold and alone. No mum should ever have to see their daughter on a slab.
I wept – and still weep – about the idea of her being hurt, wanting her mum, in the middle of nowhere, knowing she was going to die.
Because of the drugs I was taking it was as though I wasn’t fully present, but I remember all the flowers laid by the public, and going to sleep every night praying I wouldn’t wake up. Jayden’s funeral was that February and we laid her to rest with her favourite photos, music and jewellery.
In July 2014, Ben was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life. After strangling Jayden he’d covered her body, fetched a suitcase, then got a taxi to collect him from the field. The driver helped him lift the heavy case. Ben brought her back to Didcot. With his brother Jake’s help, they buried her in the grave. Jake claimed he didn’t realise what he was burying and served just 18 months for perverting the course of justice. I screamed hysterically in court when I heard the verdict.
It was only by 2017 that I felt ready to fight for Jayden’s death not to be in vain.
Ben, it turned out, had hurt girls before. If there was a register back then for domestic abuse there would have been red flags, and Jayden might still be here.
I helped petition to make this happen – an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill was passed in the House Of Lords last month, so now serial domestic abusers and stalkers will be on an accessible database. The recent publicity surrounding women’s safety probably helped.
But I won’t stop there. I want people to get more protection in violent relationships. I’m sick of misogyny, women being sexually harassed and victim blaming. School kids should be taught about relationships and how to recognise a coercive, controlling one.
I can’t get Jayden back, but if I can stop one girl from dying and stop one mum from feeling like I do, her death will not be in vain.
Samantha supports safeproject.org.uk.
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