Mother’s Day – Support Debbie Buttars’ challenge in memory of her daughter Hannah

Two women a week are killed by their current or former partners in England and Wales.  Debbie Buttars’ daughter Hannah was killed in 2009 by her ex partner.  This year, in Hannah’s memory, Debbie will be taking on a once-in-a-lifetime challenge in aid of Refuge – a grueling three-day hike through the Grand Canyon.

Here, Debbie tells Hannah’s story, in the hope that this Mother’s Day we will all think of the mothers who have lost daughters to domestic violence this week and every week of this year.

Hannah’s story

In January 2009 my daughter, Hannah Louise Fisher, was murdered, at the age of 21, by her ex-partner in Leicester.

Hannah met Simon in January 2007 when home from De Montfort University for the Christmas break. She was flattered by the attention he paid her and when she came home for the summer break they spent more and more time together.  Gradually she started to become less chatty with me and it felt I was often the last one to know what was happening.

Hannah was studying forensic science and had planned a four year course, with the third year working in a placement related to forensic science. But when she couldn’t get a placement she decided to have a year off her studies. She and Simon decided he would move up to Leicester with her and find work. For a time they stayed with his parents in Grantham so that he could use that as a base then in February 2008 Hannah informed me they had found a flat in Leicester but needed me as a guarantor. Although I felt backed into a corner I also wanted to support Hannah so I agreed to be her guarantor and his parents were his. Hannah got a job in a bar, working long hours to support both of them, he got occasional agency work.

I visited in March 2008, taking up a few things Hannah had left at home. I took them out to lunch and it struck me that he kept asking Hannah if she was alright. She seemed wary talking to me and wasn’t relaxed. We had previously enjoyed a really close relationship. Her father and I separated when she was two and we did so much together, enjoyed many happy holidays and did lots of different things. I used to say she would tell me too much, things mums don’t necessarily want to hear about, but that was how she was with me, very open. Now it seemed so totally different. I did consider that maybe it was me and I needed to let go a bit and let her find her own way but the contrast in her attitude worried me. But, I also didn’t want to drive her further away. I planned to visit again in the June with my partner Clive but Hannah told me Clive ‘wasn’t allowed to visit’, because of a previous altercation between Simon and Clive. Simon wouldn’t allow it, so we didn’t go. From then on phone calls were sporadic, sometimes three weeks apart. Hannah was working hard but he wasn’t. She never said much on the phone, she was polite but still wary, I think he was probably in the room. Hannah went back to University in September 2008.

Then out of the blue Hannah phoned me one Saturday morning and said she wanted to leave him. She had sorted it out in her mind, and asked if could she come home for a while. I remember saying: ‘Thank God for that’. At first, she thought the family wouldn’t want to help her because of the way she behaved, and had become distant from us.  But in reality we had her granddad, uncles, friends all queuing up to help. So just before Christmas 2008 myself, my partner Clive and Hannah’s dad went to Leicester to rescue her while Simon was at work. She looked thin, her lovely long red hair was in poor condition but she was in a determined mood.  She decided she would come home for Christmas and then get back to University straight afterwards. She left a note for Simon explaining why she was leaving and left with her life packed in our three cars. She drove back with me and that’s when she started telling me about his controlling nature.  How he didn’t like her going out with friends if he wasn’t with them. How he told her she didn’t need her family, now she had him.  How he’d hit her on the back of the head and tell her she was useless when she was trying to study, or pester her for a drink or snack when she was trying to concentrate. He’d pull her hair – sometimes so hard he would pull it out. He always listened to her phone conversations and checked her emails. He’d make her participate in sexual acts that she didn’t want to.  When she refused one time, he jumped on her as she lay on the bed, breaking one of her ribs. He took her to the hospital but got bored waiting and left, she was too scared to say how the injury really happened.

He planned that when she graduated she’d get a good job and he’d stay home and look after the children.  And that’s when she decided no children of hers would have a father like him.

When Hannah told me her story (there is more but that will always stay between myself and Hannah) I realised that all my previous concerns were right and I was so pleased that I had managed to keep in touch with her, even though it was so hard and would have been easier for me to just let her go completely.

Hannah went back to University in January 2009.  The university was very supportive and gave her secure accommodation on campus. The last time I saw her alive was when I left her at her new flat, smiling and looking forward to the future.

A week later she was dead.

Simon had apparently pestered her so much to meet him and be friends that she eventually agreed and they had a meal together. He was back in his controlling mode. Possibly he convinced himself that they would get back together again but Hannah said ‘no’ and something in him snapped. He murdered her in his new bedsit. Then, the part that is really hard for me, he left her there without telling a soul, to be found 24 hours later by the police team who had been frantically trying to find her alive. After killing her he went back to their old flat and threw himself off the roof.

Hannah was in her final year at De Montfort University, studying Forensic Science. Despite her death Hannah was awarded her Batchelor of Science degree (aegrotat) due to the high quality of her work.

Hannah was the victim of a gradually increasing level of domestic abuse, sadly we were not able to save her. She didn’t want to go to the police because he already had a criminal record. How I wish I had contacted them but I didn’t want to push her away again – it was her decision to make. We didn’t know about Refuge then, so it felt that we were on our own, doing our best to support her.

Now, two years on, I feel I need to do something positive, so that there is a benefit from such a huge tragedy. I can’t help Hannah anymore but hopefully by raising awareness about domestic violence and helping victims to know that there is help out there, I can help other families avoid what we have been through – and what we continue to go through.

So this year, in Hannah’s memory, my family and I are raising funds for Refuge and raising awareness on the way.

This fundraising will culminate in my Grand Canyon Trek in September 2011. I will descend 1645m into Havasu Canyon, spending 3 days hiking for 6 – 8 hrs per day before ascending back to the canyon’s rim. This is not just a walk – it will be a demanding trek.

I will be self-funding the complete trip – so you can be assured that whatever you can donate will go straight to Refuge.

My just giving page is:

If you don’t feel able to donate at this time please pass the details on to friends, family and/or colleagues.

For more information you can email me on OR write to me at: – In Hannah’s Memory, PO Box 3722, Swindon. SN4 4BA. Cheques to that address can be made payable to ‘Refuge’

THANK YOU so much for any support you are able to give.