Shadow over couple’s happiness

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There is a shadow behind Marie and Ken West, even when the sun isn’t shining.

Marie, 57, doesn’t go far these days but when she does, she sometimes finds herself looking over her shoulder – just in case.

Husband Ken, 60, a part-time paramedic, has a job which can send him anywhere in the North West at a moment’s notice in an ambulance.

He too could be forgiven for checking his wing mirrors more often.

It’s because a single sheet of paper from the Justice Department in London now weighs heavily on their daily lives.

It shows a map of the North West of England.

Coloured in highlighter pen is an “exclusion zone,” representing a distance of a mere 30 miles.

This shaded part of the map, starting close to Kendal, Cumbria, and ending just north of Preston, is the area a parole board has decreed the killer of their first-born daughter must not enter now that he’s finally a free man after 15 years in prison.

The zone isn’t long or wide enough for the Wests or their large family across Lancashire. Tracey’s brother, and the couple’s son Darren, 37, of Bolton-le-Sands, works at a major supermarket in Preston. Other relatives live there too.

Perversely, the piece of paper has become a prison for the Wests. It defines where they have to stay and where they can’t go for fear of bumping into “him.”

Before David Bonnell was freed this summer, the campaigning parents appealed through their MP David Morris for him to be banned from Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. The MP’s plea on their behalf was ignored.

Bonnell’s children, Amy and Callum, who were just four and five when their father killed their mother, also wrote him a heartbreaking letter, saying: “If you have any feelings for us, keep out of the North West.”

The reality today is, Bonnell, now 45, doesn’t lawfully have to.

At the family home in Church Brow, Bolton-le-Sands, Marie shakes her head: “He just totally ignored their letter and to me that shows he hasn’t changed.”

Marie knows that Bonnell has been to Lancaster several times this year.

He has family in the city. His father was ill in a hospice “five minutes down the road” and he visited. The former market trader and DJ was also allowed to go to his father’s funeral earlier this year while a guard stood at the back of the church. He also attended the wake at a pub afterwards.

For the first time since she was five, his daughter, Amy saw him in the flesh.

Marie says: “She told me: ‘I can’t believe he’s a murderer. He’s just a middle-aged man with greying hair and a gaunt face, because he’s lost that much weight’.”

Officially, under the terms of his licence, Bonnell is under strict orders to stay away from the Wests.

He also knows he has to keep out of Lancaster, Morecambe, Bolton-le-Sands, a slice of Lancashire and a corner of South Cumbria. He has the map too.

But the Wests know rules are broken… mythical “lines on paper” ignored.

“What if I go to work and run into him?” asks Marie with genuine fear in her voice. “I’m cautious of what I’m doing and where I’m going in case I do.”

She asks a question out loud. “If I run into him, would I lose it or not? If I hit him, I’d be the one in trouble. My daughter can’t come back so why should he go where he wants and do what he likes?” She adds: “Thirty miles, years ago, when people didn’t have cars or transport, was a long way. Nowadays it’s nothing. It’s like he’s at the bottom of the street.”

Husband Ken, 60, is matter-of-fact: “I don’t care about his rehabilitation. I just don’t want him round here. It’s not fair on us.”

They can still smile when remembering the daughter they brought into the world. She was walking by nine months old and would sing and dance.

Tracey married Bonnell two weeks short of her 18th birthday despite her parents’ reservations. She was working at Ladbrokes in Kendal, and its branches in Morecambe and Lancaster, as well as being a barmaid and young mum.

Painfully, Ken tried to recall his main memory of Tracey. Unconvincingly, he says: “All my memories are happy.”

Then he reminds me that as a paramedic, he was inadvertently sent to the murder scene on November 27, 1997. Turning up at the address he knew so well on Albert Road, Skerton, the lump of wood Bonnell used to bludgeon her, had been holding up a unit. It had a nail in it.

“She was totally unrecognisable,” says Ken, his voice breaking for a rare moment. Three policemen had to keep him off Bonnell that night. Less than a month later, on that awful first Christmas, they were handing Amy and Callum toys their mother had bought for them the day before she was killed.

Now on February 5 every year – Tracey’s birthday – they take flowers to Skerton Cemetery. Ken can never forgive. “I’ll forgive him the day my daughter walks back through that front door,” he says, firmly. “And that’s not going to happen, is it?”

The couple aren’t “hang ’em and flog ’em,” vigilante types. They have spent their lives dedicated to improving the lot of others – fostering more than 100 children as well as raising their natural son, Darren, and sister Vicky, 34.

Callum, now 19, is at university in London after a spot in BBC’s Waterloo Road. Amy, 20, a mobile hairdresser, is due to give birth to her first daughter next month.

In a tribute to acknowledge the grandmother that filled the role of her mum, Amy plans to name her baby, Poppy-Marie. Ken is hopeful he will make a different delivery to hospital this time, taking Amy to the RLI to give birth and bringing a new life into the family.

There are photos of Tracey throughout the Wests’ living room but it is a home, not a shrine. They harbour no ill will towards Bonnell’s relatives. “We don’t blame them for what he’s done,” stresses Ken.

Marie is a teaching assistant at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary in Lancaster where Amy and Callum went to school and also worked at Lancaster Farms with young offenders.

She is Catholic by faith but it has been tested to breaking point. Not as much as the children who once questioned: “God didn’t help us by saving our Mum.” Marie says: “I’m still a strong believer but every time something goes wrong, I wonder why is he messing with out heads?

“But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Ken, despite recovering from treatment for neck and mouth cancer, still helps out at the local sea scouts on Halton Road. He does turns in amateur dramatics and leads cycling proficiency tests.

“They have moved on but this summer’s decision could put them back, despite their overwhelming spirit of positivity. They are not out for blood – just justice on their terms.

Yet part of their future survival seems to depend on the peace of mind they had knowing Bonnell was behind bars and out of their lives.

As Ken puts it: “Put him on the Isle of Wight and leave him there, anywhere south of Birmingham would do me. I work anywhere in Lancashire, Cumbria and the border of Yorkshire so I don’t want to see him again.”

Marie says: “I don’t believe in hanging people or locking them up for life. But if he gets a job and I find out where he works I will make sure they know what he’s done. If he gets a girlfriend, I’ll tell her what he’s like. I’ll make sure people know what he looks like. If I have to put posters up all over Lancashire, I will.”

Looking towards the window, she adds: “They say he has to be rehabilitated. That he has served his time, is a reformed character and needs to be brought back into society. In order for that to succeed, shouldn’t it be in a place far away from us?

“Isn’t that in his best interests and ours?