Penny Clough, mother of murdered nurse, says fight will go on as award opens doors.
There is, says Penny Clough, no more beautiful sound than her granddaughter Imogen’s laughter. It warms her heart to see the little girl smile.
Imogen’s father, Jonathan Vass, is behind bars serving a life sentence for the murder of her mother, Jane Clough, in the summer of 2010.
If he’s out before 30 years there will be no justice. It’s touch and go as to whether Penny and husband John, Jane’s parents, still believe in the concept of justice. They know the police helped them. But the judiciary let them down.
As understatements go it’s one of the biggest. When Vass was charged with nine counts of rape and four of assault against the mother of his child a judge let him walk free on bail – against the advice of police and Crown Prosecution Service. The charges were later allowed to stay on file in light of the murder charge.
“Who judges the judges?” asks Penny – and that’s been at the crux of the campaign.
The answer is clear from her Justice for Jane social network site. We do. Thousands of us.
Last year the Government bowed to pressure and amended the law on bail to allow prosecutors to challenge judges’ bail decisions in the Court of Appeal.
The amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was dubbed “Jane’s Law”.
Sadly nothing can be done, as yet, about another judge’s decision to let the rape charges lie on file – deemed “insignificant” against the bigger crime of murder.
Penny retorts: “Yet they were the motive for the murder of our daughter.” One of the rapes took place when Jane was heavily pregnant. Another just after the baby had been born.
Ambulance technician Vass, a burly bodybuilder bulked out on steroids, lay in wait one night, as Jane’s shift, as a nurse at Accident and Emergency at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, began.
Jane had let her guard down. She had foretold her death in the diary she had kept since her sister Louise – who now looks after Imogen with her own young son Zak – gave her one for Christmas 2009.
Fill it in, jot down all your thoughts and feelings, it will help you, Louise told her older sister. Jane did.
In March 2010 she wrote: “I’ve been worrying today about Johnny coming to get me, even killing me if he gets found guilty, when he’s released awaiting sentencing. What would stop him?’
For her mum Penny, a staff nurse, and dad John, a rail worker, it was a revelation for she had kept the extent of her suffering from them. It was confirmation of their worst fears but also testimony of their daughter’s courage – and determination to give her own child a better life.
“We found it in her bedroom and we read it and wept,” says Penny.
Jane, says Penny, loved Vass right to the end.
“I don’t think she ever really stopped. She yearned for the man she had fallen in love with. But that man was a masquerade, an act, not who Vass really was. We saw through him. She always believed the best in people until forced to accept he was a monster.”
And on the night she was stabbed to death outside the hospital where she worked Jane had failed to ask a colleague to walk with her. She was alone. Vass took his revenge. He stabbed her repeatedly before walking away, then turned back and slit her throat.
It was an act of such savagery that nursing staff with whom Jane had worked, laughed, shared her fears, failed to recognise their fallen friend when she was brought into the A&E.
They tried in vain to save her. Penny, a nurse herself who has struggled to get back to work full time since her daughter was murdered, knows how that feels, to lose a patient, a friend, a daughter, the mother of her grand daughter.
“I sometimes find it so hard to get into work because any hospital, every hospital, reminds me of what happened.
“But I love Blackpool. It will always be the place where she died, and every time we drive past the Vic, we think of it but it’s also where she was loved by her friends and colleagues.
“I love her colleagues. They’re still there. They tried so hard to save her. They have done so much to pull me and John and her family through.
“I pass that place and I know what truly incredible people work there.
“Vass took his revenge on Jane quite deliberately outside the hospital so her colleagues would have to see her and live with what happened.”
When Penny receives her MBE from the Queen on Friday she will think of the nurses and doctors at the Vic, and her own husband, and the extended circle of social networkers who have all supported the Justice for Jane campaign.
“It’s not my MBE it’s our MBE,” says the mother who almost turned it down when she realised husband John hadn’t been nominated to share it.
“I felt such guilt. He was diplomatic about it but if anything he’s done more than me – and men find it far harder to express or share grief.
“But then I realised it would open doors. Those three little initials after your name really matter. They make people listen.
“Me? A girl from a council house getting an MBE? Who would have thought it?
“And there’s such an irony in getting an award from the crown for criticising the crown justice system – for that’s what the campaign’s about.
“Jane would have laughed. She would have known I’d dread having to prepare for it – I don’t ever have my hair done, just cut, I hate hats, and I much prefer trainers to heels. But this is her MBE too – she was the real fighter, the inspiration, the girl who trusted to justice to help her. I don’t really believe in God but I believe in Jane. ”
Penny also believes The Gazette has a share of that MBE too.
“The Gazette was Jane’s local paper, not ours, but it has supported us throughout.
“When we got Justice for Jane up and running on social networks it was this campaigning provincial paper which did so much to keep it in the media – not the nationals.
“Jane worked and died in Blackpool and Blackpool gave us so much support.
“When we had the petition day in Blackpool we were overwhelmed.
“How can we thank your paper, and the people who live and work in Blackpool, for doing so much?”
It is almost three years since Jane was murdered.
Her daughter Imogen is four in October. Vass was arrested the day after the killing near her parents’ home. Police found cans of petrol in his car.
If it wasn’t hard enough to lose their daughter to a killer Penny and John had to fight to keep their granddaughter close.
They can’t discuss the adoption process but Imogen is seldom far from her grandmother’s side.
There is light and laughter in a household which still sees more than its share of tears.
Imogen is the source of much joy, says Penny.
“Louise is doing some university work so we help out as any grandparents would – and while we can’t talk about the adoption process we’re lucky to have her.
“She is three and she is beautiful and wants to know everything and do everything.
“She reminds us so much of Jane but is her own person.
“Just like Jane was...”