KAREN Edwards, mother of murdered Becky Godden Edwards, has told of the emotional toll of her daughter’s disappearance and how, even nine years after they had last spoken, she believed she was still alive.
The former beauty salon owner was in court on Friday to see mini-cab driver Chris Halliwell sent down for life for murdering Sian O’Callaghan, in the knowledge her daughter’s death had been erased from the charge sheet only months earlier.
She would not get justice on that day. Forced to remain silent for months by restrictions placed by a judge on sensitive information in the case, the 52-year-old is now determined to shout as loud as she can to ensure Becky’s killer answers for a crime that deprived her of the hope of ever seeing her “beautiful” daughter again. Speaking to the Adver, Karen revealed how her marriage break-up with Becky’s dad, John Godden, when she was just six was the start of problems that would eventually drive Becky out of the family home and on to the streets.
She said: “I was married for 10 years to John and once he left, because I was working and trying to support Becky and Stephen, I did feel the pressure of being a single mum. “I never found it a hardship taking on the role of mother and father – I was always the one who disciplined the children – but I did feel obliged to go to work. I had a mortgage and bills to pay.
“Stephen was a bit older and could understand a bit but it was Becky who felt the hurt most because she was such a sweet little girl. She struggled to come to terms with her father leaving and I don’t think she ever came to terms with it.
“She had a lot of friends when she was younger and I encouraged them to come over as much as possible. My family and friends were a huge help too and would take the kids out.”
A bright girl, Becky excelled at Even Swindon Primary School but as she grew into awkward teenage years the cracks of being from a broken home began to tell and the bullying started. “She loved primary school – loved the teachers, kept coming home with schoolwork and drawings she had done, which I still have dotted around,” Karen said.
“But then the bullying started when she was 11 and went to Commonweal. They picked on her because she was so little and was very bright so maybe they were a bit jealous. “I’m very protective and if anybody picked on my children you could be sure I would be down the school straight away to say ‘I’m not having that’. It’s a natural instinct.
“I had several meetings with the school but nothing changed. It was all getting too much for her and she became quite withdrawn – not the happy-go-lucky girl she was. “When they were kids we used to laugh a lot but when she was a teenager she struggled. “I remember one day she came home and said somebody had started on her at Mannington Rec. “She went straight to her bedroom and shortly afterwards she came down with her arms bleeding – she had carved ‘I hate’ and the name of this boy into the back of her hand. “Then when she was about 13 she tried to take her own life by taking tablets.
“We took her to a child psychologist and at every meeting her father was brought up but she wouldn’t really talk to me about it. “I tried to juggle work and my friends and family rallied around and that’s when I met Charlie.”
Amusement arcade operator Charlie Edwards, 67, proved a strong influence on Becky’s life and there was a brief period when happiness returned. But the bullying did not stop and Becky found herself isolated at first Commonweal and then Hreod Parkway before she was taken out of mainstream education and was home schooled. Mum and daughter began to get close again before Karen tried to get her into a position for Becky, now aged around 15, to take her GCSEs and sent her to what is now called Stratton Education Centre. “She loved it at first and was doing exceptionally well,” Karen said.
“At long last she had started making friends but she was vulnerable and fell into their ways. She started taking drugs. One day I found a piece of tin foil with brown markings in the house – she had tried to hide it from us. “I found out it was heroin and I was out of my mind. I did not know what to do and tried all the different agencies we could.” However, Karen says, none seemed able to help and she was repeatedly turned away or let down. Becky started running away from home as the grip of the drug tightened, and regular search parties found and brought the wayward teen home again. But Becky’s friends quickly became Karen’s enemies, harbouring her daughter and fashioning closer ties. Karen said: “We tried everything – discipline, soft tactics, private rehabilitation – and nothing worked. An escape for her was her friends and the pull of that was greater than her family.
“She would leave home for days on end but whenever she got in trouble she would call. It would be ‘mum can you come and get me?’ and we would be straight out there.” It was one of these calls that led to the moment Karen last saw her daughter, who was then aged 20. Becky had been a lookout for a gang while they burgled a pub in Lechlade as restitution for her boyfriend’s drug debt and police wanted her to testify or face action herself. When she failed to turn up to court as a witness police arrested her and when it came to court she was fined £50, which Karen paid along with the legal fees. “I remember her coming home and wanting to go and see her boyfriend,” Karen, of Nine Elms, said. “I said no but she was adamant and so I thought if I go with her and sit outside and wait I can bring her home again.
“She went in and then kept coming out and asking for a few more minutes. Then finally she said ‘mum, can you come back and get me later?’ and I said ‘no, you’re coming back’.
“That’s when she said her last words to me – ‘well, mum, I’m going to stop here, I have to get myself sorted and then I will come home’ and she kissed me and hugged me.” That was the December 17, 2002 and Becky was only seen once more, just 10 days later on December 27, by a police officer in the Manchester Road area. More than nine years passed, with infrequent, and false, reports of sightings from friends and even family right up until 2009, keeping the hope alive for Karen. She also contacted the police and missing persons charities in the hope they could help reunite them. But when detectives investigating 22-year-old Sian’s murder came knocking on her door on the day of Becky’s 29th birthday in April last year, she knew immediately why.
Halliwell had led detectives to the site of a second body buried in a field in Eastleach and, after a week of forensic analysis, had an identity. Karen said: “Call it mother’s instinct but I knew it was Becky. I have never felt anything so strong in my life – I felt physically sick.
“After they told me I had to be sedated by the doctor, but when I woke up reality hit me like a sledgehammer. I could not think straight or function.” Her withdrawal made her family fear she could be a suicide risk, which Karen confirmed. “Charlie was worried and I’ll admit I had thoughts of taking my own life,” she said. “My hope had been destroyed and I did not want to accept what they were telling. I couldn’t go to the morgue or chapel of rest – I just had somebody’s word that it was her.
“You never expect to bury your children.” Now Halliwell is behind bars for a minimum of 25 years following his guilty plea on Friday but Karen is angry he has not answered for Becky’s death. While she backs Det Supt Steve Fulcher, whose mistakes led to crucial evidence in her case being ruled inadmissible in any potential trial and made any conviction highly unlikely, she is determined to fight for justice.
“I have nothing but admiration for Steve Fulcher and feel the law should be a bit more flexible to protect victims,” she said. “If he had not acted the way he did we would never have known Becky was gone and I would always have the false hope, the paranoia. Knowing is better than that.
“Halliwell has destroyed so many lives and families – not just ours and Sian’s family’s, but his as well. His children are going to have to live with the fact he murdered young girls. “I have got both boxing gloves on now and this is where the fight for Becky begins.”
The police inquiry remains open and anyone with information which could help should contact Wiltshire Police on 101 or Crime-stoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.