'I separate the person who killed mum from the person who is my dad': Remarkable forgiveness of daughters whose lives were torn apart by the murder of their motherRuth Edwards' mother Michaela was strangled to death with her own dressing gown cord – by her fatherDavid Edwards was sentenced to life in 2008Story is told in the Cutting Edge documentary Lifers, which is screened on Channel 4 tonight
21:21 GMT, 25 June 2012
Sitting in the public gallery at Bristol Crown Court, civil servant Ruth Edwards grasped her sister's hand and collapsed in tears as her father David was jailed for killing her mother.
Yet, the 28-year-old, who works at the Ministry of Defence, was not just grieving for her 44-year-old mother Michaela, who had been strangled to death with her own dressing gown cord. She was mourning the fact that her father, who also worked at the MoD, would spend the next 11 years behind bars.
In a remarkable act of forgiveness, Ruth and her younger sister Sara, 25, even sent a letter to the court begging for their dad's freedom. They described their parents as 'a couple who couldn't be apart but shouldn't have been together'. 'They had an intense and destructive relationship that brought out the worst in each other,' they added.
Heartbreaking: David Edwards was jailed for strangling his wife Michaela to death. His daughters Ruth and Sara, are still close to their dad. Ruth, centre, is pictured with Sara, left, and their father, right, when they were younger
Now, speaking for the first time since that day four years ago, Ruth said: 'A lot of people will struggle to understand how we could forgive dad.
'But I've never blamed him for mum's death because it was not his fault. He's like two different people to me. The person who killed my Mum wasn't my dad. He was someone different, who wasn't in control of what he was doing.
'My dad is a really gentle man and it must have taken a lot to push him to do something so awful. He lost his rag and saw red. That's how I deal with it in my head. I separate the person who killed mum from the person who is my dad.'
Ruth's story is told in the Cutting Edge documentary Lifers, which is screened on Channel 4 tonight. Filmmakers were granted unprecedented access to Leicester's Gartree Prison, home to 600 men sentenced to life in jail.
David Edwards, now 51, who worked for the MoD in Bristol, has been at the prison since he was sentenced to life on November 12, 2008. He had strangled his wife at their home in Bradley Stoke, near Bristol after she had taunted him about her new lover.
Edwards, who is now doing a degree in art history, told the programme: 'I feel I had all the advantages life had to offer me. That makes me feel my crime is in some way worse than everybody else's. When you kill the person you love, it's almost like a double grief. You grieve for the loss and you grieve for the fact you've caused that loss.'
Tragic: David and Michaela on their wedding day. David strangled his wife at their home in Bradley Stoke, near Bristol after she had taunted him about her new lover
It had all seemed so different when they got married at the Catholic Church in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, in the summer of 1983. Ruth was born on Valentine's Day the following year and Sara came along two years later.
But in 1996 – when Ruth was 12 and Sara ten – the couple, who both worked for the MoD, were forced to relocate to Bristol. 'We were definitely aware they had problems,' recalled Ruth. 'They had lots of fights over money and the stress it was causing. I think moving to Bristol made things worse because Mum was away from her family and lost her support network and missed her parents.
'But I have lots of good memories from childhood – going out for day trips to London Zoo and on family holidays. When they weren't fighting there was a lot of love between them and things were really good.'
The couple's relationship teetered on until their daughters had left school but in 2005 they separated for a year. Edwards moved out to live in a flat in Bath while his wife stayed in the family home with Ruth. Sara was in her first year at Hull University.
'Mum and Dad weren't talking at the time,' said Ruth. 'I remember her finding a receipt for some furniture he was buying. He had rented a flat and had the delivery details on it with his new address. Mum read it and said: “Oh. He must be moving out.”
Difficult: Ruth and Sara visiting a zoo with their mother Michaela. The sisters said their parents had 'an intense and destructive relationship that brought out the worst in each other'
'I was quite relieved at the time because I wanted them both to be happy – and if they weren't happy together I'd rather they were happy apart. The tension was so high – they would fight, not talk for a couple of months and then get back together and then the cycle would start again.
'But at the same time it's so hard when your parents split up. You feel awful and you are torn in two directions. You don't want to take sides. Dad was in a serious bout of depression and wouldn't talk to anyone while Mum saw it as a new start.'
However, about a year later, Edwards returned home. 'He wrote to Mum saying he was ill and would like to meet up and talk about it,' said Ruth. 'She went for a drink with him and he came back with her and sat down in the front room. It was all a bit confusing. They didn't explain anything to us. They just went on as if nothing had changed. Sadly they didn't have marriage counselling.'
Close: Ruth and Sara with their father on bonfire night. The two sisters sent a letter to Bristol Crown Court begging for their dad's freedom before he was sentenced for killing their mother
Within a year Ruth had moved out, exhausted by her parents on-off relationship. She barely spoke to her mother again. 'It became unbearable living there,' explained Ruth. 'That's why I moved out. We never had any big blow-ups but she would give me the cold shoulder and silent treatment and act like I wasn't there.'
Ruth did not talk to her mother again until her father had a heart attack in March 2008. Even then her mum got a friend to call her. /06/25/article-2164464-13C7F1DE000005DC-22_634x456.jpg” width=”634″ height=”456″ alt=”Happy: Ruth, Sara and their father are pictured on holiday in Bulgaria. David was sentenced to 11 years behind bars for killing their mother” class=”blkBorder” />
Happy: Ruth, Sara and their father are pictured on holiday in Bulgaria. David was sentenced to 11 years behind bars for killing their mother
But towards the end of the year, Michaela began dating someone else and Edwards emailed both his daughters asking to stay the night. 'It was the first time I had seen him since his heart attack,' said Ruth.
'He was very down. There was definitely something wrong. But he didn't specify what it was and I didn't push him. Perhaps I should have Hindsight is a brilliant thing.'
Ruth spent Christmas with her sister and the pair had lunch with Ruth's now ex-boyfriend Roy, a warehouse worker, on December 27. When they returned home, two policemen knocked at the door and told them their mother was in hospital. The detectives said that their father was in a police cell, having called 999 and confessed to strangling her.
'I remember thinking there must be a mistake,' she said. 'I couldn't believe Dad had done anything to her. I was in complete shock. I remember saying: “Are you sure it was him” But they said: “Yes. He confessed straight away.”'
The girls immediately went to visit their mother in Frenchay Hospital, where she was in intensive care. But four days later, on New Year's Eve, they decided to switch their mother's life support machine off.
'I had mixed feelings seeing her at the hospital,' said Ruth, who had not spoken to her mother for ten months. She looked very tiny and vulnerable. A wave of emotion hit me because it was so sad. But we knew she was not going to wake up from the coma.'
Happier times: David and Michaela with Sara in London. The couple's daughters said they couldn't be apart but shouldn't have been together
The funeral was held at Westbury-on-Trym crematorium and the whole family attended apart from Edwards who was in custody. The next time the girls saw their father was in court when he pleaded guilty to their mother's murder.
'We had been hoping that he would not plead guilty,' revealed Ruth. 'But Dad didn't want a trial or to see Mum's name dragged through the mud. Even now he still cherishes her above all else. There's no doubt he's still in love with her.'
Since their father was jailed, both Ruth and Sara have travelled a 250-mile round trip to visit him each month. 'It was such a lovely feeling to be able to see him after everything we had all gone through,' explained Ruth. We just wanted to say to him: “It's OK. We're not angry with you. We understand.” Although he was in total shock – his eyes were barely focusing – you could see that he felt relieved.
'What is surprising is that my sister and I have discovered that we are both a lot stronger than we thought we would be.
'Neither Sara nor I have had counselling. We talked about it a bit but felt we didn't need it. To some people it might seem strange. But the bond between Dad, Sara and me is stronger than ever.'
Lifers is screened at 9pm tonight on Channel 4.