I'll fight on for the little girl I love: Woman vows to see her daughter despite being imprisoned for defying court order
23:02 GMT, 5 July 2012
23:03 GMT, 5 July 2012
Racehorse trainer Vicky at her stables in 2005
When Victoria Haigh wakes up, the first thing she sees are the photographs of her eight-year-old daughter on the wall beside her bed.
In one of the pictures, her little girl is happily riding her pony; in another she smiles proudly in her school uniform, looking every inch the product of her privileged, middle-class upbringing.
Yet these photos are not showcased in silver frames nor displayed in the sitting room of a comfortable family home. They are stuck to a prison wall — each image reminding Victoria of the enduring pain of her daughter’s absence.
Victoria hasn’t seen her eldest daughter since March 2011, when a brief meeting between them changed the course of their lives for ever.
Soon after, Victoria was arrested and charged with breaching an order placed on her in January last year to stop her contacting her daughter — who cannot be named for legal reasons — after sole custody was awarded to her ex-husband.
Victoria had previously accused him of sexually abusing the child.
The abuse allegations were dismissed by a judge, who named and shamed Victoria to lift the stigma surrounding her ex-husband’s name. Last December she was sent to prison for three years for an incident at a petrol station — which Victoria insists was nothing more than a chance encounter.
Earlier this week an appeal against her term saw it reduced to two years and three months.
Victoria, 41, now expects to be free by Christmas, but celebrations are likely to be muted, as it will be June 2013 before she can apply for even limited access to her daughter.
She knows that because of the dim view the family court has taken of her past behaviour, she is likely to be refused that access.
In all probability, she will not see her daughter until she is an adult, by which stage the damage to their relationship may be too great to repair.
This situation must also be having an impact on Victoria’s younger daughter, a 13-month-old baby — by a new partner — who lives with her mother in prison.
There are many who would say that Victoria has only herself to blame for the plight she finds herself in. But when you talk to her, Victoria’s agony for the loss of her daughter is palpable.
‘It is like a death, and I am grieving,’ she says. ‘A mother has a duty to care for her children, and not being able to do so is torture.
‘I wake up every day wondering if all this is a dream.’
Victoria is now Prisoner A8294CH, earning 30p an hour washing dishes, and wondering what her future holds, but not so long ago she was a successful racehorse trainer and a former model and jockey.
Home was a seven-bedroom grange in Bawtry, South Yorkshire. She drove a Mercedes, and owned a wardrobe of designer clothes.
In 1998 she met David Tune, now 42, at a running club. They fell in love and Victoria became pregnant in early 2003. She and David, the owner of a fresh produce business, were married in May that year.
But Victoria claims their marriage collapsed within weeks when his business went bankrupt and she discovered he had accrued substantial debts in her name, an accusation David denies.
Victoria says she filed for divorce on the grounds of David’s unreasonable behaviour in May 2004, and they informally agreed that he would care for their daughter on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
/07/05/article-2169476-13F1F4D9000005DC-954_634x778.jpg” width=”634″ height=”778″ alt=”Victoria with new partner David and Baby Sapphire, who Vicky said she was terrified of losing” class=”blkBorder” />
Victoria with new partner David and Baby Sapphire, who Vicky said she was terrified of losing
In the months that followed, Victoria was allowed to visit her daughter twice a week for 90 minutes at a local social services’ centre, under the supervision of a social worker.
‘My daughter would cling to me — crying and asking to come home,’ Victoria claims. ‘Hearing her so upset was like a knife in my heart.’
In August 2010, Victoria fell pregnant by her new partner in what she admits was a deliberate attempt to assuage her loss. ‘I thought having another baby would ease the pain,’ she says. That November, the interim care order expired and the authorities ruled that Victoria’s daughter should live with her father.
Victoria was so incensed, she refused to sign the new custody agreement that would have allowed her supervised visiting rights.
In January 2011, after breaching a contact order by sending Christmas presents to her daughter, she was made the subject of a non-molestation order barring any contact with her.
But events took a complicated and catastrophic turn in March 2011, when Victoria saw her daughter sitting alone in her father’s car at a petrol station near Bawtry.
Victoria, who had moved away from the town but sometimes went back to visit, claims that meeting was entirely unplanned.
‘Only four months before, I had enjoyed a birthday meal with her,’ she says.
‘I wanted her to know I was expecting a baby sister for her, but as I approached her she started screaming. She was clearly terrified of me.’
Vicky with Sapphire and partner David Cutts' children Olivia and Megan, left, and with David and Sapphire, right
David returned to the car, and when Victoria verbally abused him, he shouted at the garage staff to call the police. Two days later, Victoria, who was seven months’ pregnant, was arrested and taken to Doncaster police station.
‘I had horrendous stomach cramps and had to break from questioning twice to be taken to hospital,’ she says. She was charged with breaching the non-molestation order, and released on bail.
Increasingly concerned that the authorities might try to take her soon-to-be-born daughter away from her, Victoria decided she would flee to the Republic of Ireland, where social services are not subject to the same governing body as in Britain.
Family: Vicky with Baby Sapphire in happier times
‘Nottinghamshire Social Services had threatened to take my second child away too, and I knew that in Ireland they were unlikely to be able to do that,’ she says.
‘I had the full support of David (her new partner), but he couldn’t come with me because he had to help care for his own children.
‘So I rented a cottage in Limerick and gave birth to my second daughter, Sapphire, in hospital there in May last year.
‘I felt overwhelmed with love for her but terrified that she’d be taken from me, so I wouldn’t let Sapphire out of my sight those first few weeks. I showed her pictures of her sister, and David visited us with his children when he could.’
In June 2011, Victoria had to travel to London for a court hearing relating to breaching the non-molestation order, and left Sapphire in the care of trusted childminders.
She was confident the news would be good regarding contact with her older daughter — and was horrified when, instead, she was made the subject of a two-year order banning her from any contact with the child.
There was another blow for Victoria last August, when a judge decided that David had no case to answer, and that Victoria had distorted the police and social services’ version of events to suit her own purposes.
She was, he declared, an unstable woman who cared more about her own welfare than her daughter’s.
'I was terrified they'd take my new baby too'
So incensed was the judge by Victoria’s attempts to ruin David’s reputation that he took the unprecedented step of naming the adults involved in the case, to shame Victoria and allow her ex-husband to clear his name.
David then gave an interview to The Mail in which he talked of how his world ‘fell apart’ when Vicky accused him of sexual abuse, and insisted that he had never harmed his daughter.
He likened the situation to ‘waking up in your worst nightmare’, and accused his ex-wife of launching a ‘ridiculous, evil campaign’ against him.
Victoria continued to protest her innocence, and at a trial in November last year she pleaded not guilty to breaching the non-molestation order in the encounter at the petrol station. But the judge said the incident had ‘sinister overtones’, adding: ‘It looked to Mr Tune as if it was an attempted abduction. I don’t accept at all that it was a purely coincidental meeting.’
Victoria was devastated when she was convicted of breaching the order and taken to prison to await sentencing.
‘I couldn’t believe the outcome of the trial, and Sapphire being back in Ireland broke my heart,’ she says.
She was put on suicide watch, and spent 22 hours a day in her cell in her first week, feeling haunted by memories of the years she had shared with the daughter she’d lost, and devastated to be apart from her baby.
‘Sapphire was only seven months old, and being apart from her was torture,’ says Victoria. ‘I was still breastfeeding, and didn’t understand how a mother could be treated like that.
‘I couldn’t sleep, I lost a stone within a month, and my hair fell out through stress.’
On December 16 last year, Victoria was sentenced to three years in prison. It took a further three months for social workers to decide that Sapphire could be reunited with her.
Victoria was moved to the prison’s mother-and-baby unit in March this year, and David collected Sapphire from the childminders in Ireland and took her to her mother.
‘David bought her in and she smiled at me,’ Victoria says. ‘I kissed her on the forehead and, as she fell asleep in my arms, I cried with relief.’
In May, Victoria made Sapphire a sponge cake with pink icing for her first birthday.
That same month she was moved to a women’s prison in North Yorkshire, where Sapphire sleeps in a cot at the end of her bed.
Victoria says: ‘In some ways Sapphire exacerbates the pain of being apart from my other daughter, because she reminds me of her so much.’
Victoria is allowed no contact with her older daughter, and can’t apply for contact to be restored for another year.
When she speaks of her love for her eldest child she begins to cry, but it’s apparent that she has few regrets for her actions. She says: ‘I try to block the memories out otherwise I wouldn’t survive.’
There are those who believe Victoria has been unjustly treated. Among them is MP John Hemmings, who says her imprisonment is ‘ridiculously harsh sentencing for what was a minor technical breach of a court order’.
And Victoria’s relationship with her partner has withstood the trauma and heartbreak of the last few years. In fact, she insists, it is stronger than ever.
‘The love David has shown both my daughters has made me love him all the more,’ she says.
While the courts have branded Victoria a liar who falsely accused her husband of the most heinous of crimes, her desperate love for her daughter seems beyond doubt.
The question of whether she has always considered the best interests of her little girl, the one true innocent victim in this wholly disturbing story, is much harder to answer.