Children of criminals reveal their family struggles
My father murdered my mother and my sister — Ryan Hart
Ryan Hart’s father, Lance, murdered his mother, Claire, and his sister, Charlotte
In this day and age, we like to think that we don’t punish children, in a biblical fashion, for the “sins of the father”. But if you’re the son or daughter of a notorious criminal, it doesn’t always feel like that.
The child of an offender has to face up to multiple hardships. First, there is the realisation that the parent you have put on a pedestal is capable of such wrongdoing. Then you may have to come to terms with a mum or dad’s absence as they serve prison time.
Ryan Hart and his brother Luke have also taken to campaigning to try to bring about positive change, in the wake of their extreme trauma. In July 2016, their father, Lance, murdered their mother, Claire, and their sister, Charlotte, four days after the family had left him.
Ryan Hart, now 27, says he was shocked by the media coverage, which painted his father as a caring member of the community.
Ryan Hart is now campaigning with his brother Luke for awareness about domestic violence
“It’s kind of hard to describe how it feels when you’ve lived with a man so evil for 25 years and then he murders your mum and your sister and then it feels like society is standing by the murderer and completely ignoring the two victims,” he says.
“It opened our eyes up to how grossly misunderstood domestic abuse is and how everyone likes to almost victim blame. I think it’s hard to comprehend the mind of a murderer and therefore probably easier to suggest that the man was pushed or forced to do what he did.”
Lance Hart left a letter in his car, but his sons say they will never read it or make it public.
“To be honest, that’s what he would have wanted,” Hart says. “He wanted to control everyone after his death. He did that his entire life. I think that’s the key thing with domestic homicide – the victims are always silenced.”
Even for less serious offences, the impact on the children can be permanent. I ask Adam Bradford how long he thinks his father’s crimes will cast a cloud over his life.
“I think it will be there forever,” he says.
Take Aimee Challenor.
Last August she was suspended by the Green Party after her father was jailed for raping a child. She had already withdrawn from the race to become deputy leader, so that the election would not be “dominated by what my father has done”, and insisted that she had not known about his crimes.
She had, however, appointed him as her election agent after he had been charged with raping and torturing the 10-year-old girl in the family home – which was Coventry Green Party’s registered address.
“This was one of a number of ways I was seeking to reconcile my relationship with my father after coming out of care,” she said, but accepted on reflection that “it was unacceptable”.
For crimes that have attracted the media glare, there is also a toxic fame that has to be grappled with – along with the prurience and judgement of friends and strangers.
Perhaps the hardest case to consider is that of Mae West, daughter of mass murderers Fred and Rose West, whose lives are explored in the documentary series Killer in the Family, starting on UKTV’s Really channel on Thursday.
“Sometimes I think when the criminals are sorted out, people overlook their families,” she wrote while promoting her memoir, Love as Always, Mum xxx, published last September. “I often see cases in the news and wonder: ‘What happened to the children?’”
Son of a Great Train Robber
Nick Reynolds’s life has, in many ways, been defined by his father’s criminality and what he calls the resulting “50-year media soap opera”. Bruce Reynolds masterminded the Great Train Robbery, which has gripped Britain’s imagination ever since the gang of 15 stole £2.6m in used bank notes in 1963.
The family was on the run for five years. But Reynolds had no idea his father had committed a crime. “If I did give it some thought, I probably thought my dad was a spy,” he tells i.
“I was seven when about 50 policemen arrested him. I’d been living the Life of Riley in exotic locations, just on a big extended family holiday. He was whisked off to prison and I was sent off to boarding school.
“It was quite hard for me to get my head around, because it meant that he was the bad guy. I think I found out bit by bit from old newspapers.”