The Angel who put love back into our lives: Couple whose sons were killed by drink-driver but told they could not adopt, on their miracle daughter
23:49 GMT, 9 March 2012
The calm in Amanda and Phil Peak’s living room is broken by a squeal of delight as their daughter, Angel, bursts in from the kitchen clutching a gnawed apple, juice dripping down her chin.
‘Mama!’ she says, holding it out to her mother. It’s not the most appetising of offers, but Amanda’s face lights up as she bends down to scoop up the little blonde child, who will be two later this month.
When Amanda’s world collapsed suddenly on June 7, 2008, she never thought she would hear the word ‘Mama’ again. That was the day the lives of Amanda and Phil’s beautiful young sons, Arron and Ben, were violently cut short.
Second chance: Angel has breathed new life and love into Phil and Amanda's home after the tragic death of their cherished sons at the hands of a drink-driver
The boys were aged just ten and eight when footballer Luke McCormick, who was twice over the drink-drive limit and travelling at 97mph, smashed his Range Rover into Phil’s people carrier.
Phil and his sons had been on their way to the Silverstone motor racing track for a day out together — a treat they had been anticipating for many weeks.
Arron and Ben were killed in the accident, which also left Phil, 42, with fractures to his neck, back and ribs. His spinal injuries were so severe that he will never fully recover: Amanda, 34, is now his full-time carer.
McCormick, then a goalkeeper for Plymouth Argyle, was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison after admitting two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and driving with excess alcohol.
This summer he is due to be released, after serving just half that time. Unlike poor Phil, he is in good health.
What the Peaks went through would have been enough to destroy most people — and Phil and Amanda admit they struggled to find any hope in the dark days after the deaths of their beloved boys. The couple’s future seemed bleak, filled with misery and grief.
Devastating: Luke McCormick was twice over the drink-drive limit and travelling at 97mph when he smashed his Range Rover into Phil's people carrier
But that was before the adorable Angel came into their lives. To them she lives up to her name perfectly. For a long time after the crash, the idea of having a child to call their own had seemed an impossible dream.
/03/09/article-2112830-0457BE23000005DC-204_634x520.jpg” width=”634″ height=”520″ alt=”Cherished: Arron, left, and Ben were heading to Silverstone motor racing track for a treat with dad Phil when they were killed in a horrific car crash caused by footballer Luke McCormick” class=”blkBorder” />
Cherished: Arron, left, and Ben were heading to Silverstone motor racing track for a treat with dad Phil when they were killed in a horrific car crash caused by footballer Luke McCormick
She and Phil have kept the boys’ belongings, which were painstakingly packed up when they moved house in 2009 and are now stored in a wardrobe and boxes in Angel’s room. ‘When we move again, I’ll have to sort through it all,’ says Amanda. ‘But I couldn’t bear to leave anything behind.
‘We’ll never throw it away, but it would be lovely for Angel to use some of Arron and Ben’s things, especially Ben’s bike, when she’s older.’
Angel’s arrival has been just one of the huge changes in the Peaks’ lives in the past four years. Before the accident, they were a tight-knit family living in a three-bedroom house nearby.
Phil worked long hours in his construction job, and Friday nights were ‘family nights’ when they all put on their pyjamas early, shared a meal and watched a film together.
Arron was a proficient footballer and a bright boy, while Ben was strong-minded and passionate about rugby.
‘They were no angels,’ says Amanda. ‘There were days when I wanted to throttle them, like every mother. But they were polite, kind, good boys, and Arron looked after Ben. They never got into trouble.’
Impact: Arron, 10, was killed instantly, Ben, eight, died very shortly after the Range Rover smashed into the Toyota Previa
The last memory Amanda has of her sons was giving them a sleepy kiss goodbye as they headed off at 5.30am for a Saturday of motor racing with their dad, a neighbour and his two sons.
‘They loved cars,’ she says. ‘Ben could tell you the name of a car just from the sound of its engine.’
When the phone rang soon after at 6.30am, it was someone at North Staffordshire Hospital, telling Amanda there had been an accident.
‘I got to the hospital and was asked to wait in a small room,’ she says. ‘I prayed for my children and husband. When the doctor came into the room, even he had tears in his eyes.’
The news was dreadful. Arron was killed on impact: Ben had died very shortly after it. Phil had suffered severe spinal injuries and was barely conscious.
‘I felt numb,’ says Amanda, staring at the floor. ‘But I can remember everything, even now. I wish I couldn’t. I will never, ever get over seeing the faces of my little lads when I went to identify them.’
In her grief, Amanda had to start organising the funeral for her sons, and break the devastating news to her heavily-medicated husband that they were both dead.
On the Monday, after spending the weekend in hospital with her husband, Amanda went back alone to their empty house.
‘Everything was how it was when they left,’ she says. ‘Their school shoes were by the door, their breakfast bowls in the kitchen sink, their pyjamas in the living room where they’d got dressed.’
In a daze, Amanda put the boys’ clothes in their rooms and did the washing-up. ‘Then I curled up in a ball on the sofa and shut my eyes, trying to get some sleep to avoid everything that was happening.’
Over the next few months, as Phil went in and out of hospital with back problems and blood clots on his lungs, Amanda often found herself sitting silently in her sons’ rooms.
Life changing: Phil was left with fractures to his neck, back and ribs and his spinal injuries were so severe that he will never fully recover
Some days she took refuge in the bathroom — the only room without photographs and other painful reminders of the children she’d lost. Four months after the accident, Luke McCormick was sent to prison. The length of his sentence felt like another blow to Amanda and Phil, who were struggling to come to terms with his disabilities.
‘He got a few years, but we’ve got a life sentence,’ Phil says. ‘As someone who had worked all my life, it was so hard to have to be looked after. I don’t know what I would have done without Amanda.’
In February 2009, the couple moved into a ground-floor flat, which was more suitable for Phil. There was also another reason for the move. ‘It was hard to be near other children, especially our neighbours’ boys who had been in the car,’ says Amanda.
Phil Bennett, the neighbour also travelling in the vehicle, had suffered nerve damage in the crash, while his sons, Luke and Jackson, escaped with minor muscle damage and concussion.
‘I couldn’t help but think, “Why wasn’t it them instead” but then that made me feel so guilty.’
Amanda and Phil felt their lives were empty without children, and began to discuss the possibility of adoption. In the summer of 2009, they approached Salford City Council but, following a two-hour interview, were turned down as ‘unsuitable candidates’ for adoption.
They were deemed to be still grieving for the sons they had lost, and were advised to wait at least another year before raising the possibility of adoption again.
They were furious. ‘Of course we were grieving,’ says Amanda. ‘We are parents who have lost our children, so we will always be grieving. It doesn’t go away, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t give a child who needs it a loving home.
‘There were concerns that we were trying to replace the boys, but how could we They were irreplaceable.’
A year later, however, Phil and Amanda were approached by a local family they knew about a three-month-old girl. There was a risk that the baby might be taken into care because the parents could not provide a suitable home for her, so the Peaks were asked if they would look after her temporarily.
‘She arrived so suddenly,’ says Amanda. ‘I never thought I’d be changing nappies and potty training again, but right from the start Angel brought back our hope and joy.’
Amanda and Phil had to tread the perilously difficult line of loving the child who had come into their lives but proceeding with caution in case, as was likely, she was removed from their care. ‘If we’d had to give her back, I don’t think we would have been able to cope,’ Amanda says. ‘It would have felt like we were losing a child again.’
Much to the Peaks’ relief, the authorities — after having discussed the situation with her biological parents — placed Angel with them permanently in July 2009, and they formally adopted her last October.
Their days are now filled with trips to the park, shopping for pretty dresses, cooking family meals and watching Scooby-Doo!, Angel’s favourite television programme.
The joy she brings is a welcome break from their constant wondering about how their sons’ lives might have turned out. Arron would have been 15 this summer, Ben would be 12. Both of them would have adored their little sister, Amanda says.
‘She would have been so spoilt, but they would also have been very protective of her.’
The couple would like to adopt more children in the future, but at the moment they’re concentrating on Angel and Phil’s health. He still needs at least four operations, is unlikely to work again, and can’t even wash himself without Amanda’s help.
Joy: Amanda says the arrival of Angel has given the devastated family 'a reason to look forward to tomorrow'
They are desperately trying not to dwell on the fact that their sons’ killer will be released from prison in just a few months, and may be back behind the wheel of an expensive car in less than a year.
In contrast, they are barely getting by financially. They downsized from their rented three-bedroom house to the cramped two-bed council flat where they live now, and dream of a bungalow in the countryside with more space.
From two incomes (they were both working, Amanda as a bar manager, until a year before the boys' deaths), they are now living on benefits, which has slashed their weekly income from 500 to 110.
And, to add insult to injury, they will have to pay it all back when their insurance claim against McCormick eventually gets paid.
The Peaks have been advised legally not to discuss the figure they are likely to receive — one can only hope it is substantial enough to take away their financial worries.
‘It’s very hard,’ says Amanda. ‘We both worked and paid our taxes for 20 years. You get used to a certain way of living, and now we have to watch every penny.
‘We’ve spent all the money we saved towards a deposit on a house of our own, and just paying the gas and electric is a challenge.’
But, thanks to Angel, they have love and laughter in their lives again.
‘We still have bad days, but Angel’s given us a reason to look forward to tomorrow,’ says Amanda. ‘She’s given us a reason to live. I do worry about the future, but we’ve learned to take one day at a time.’