A 34-year-old who suffered years of abuse at the hands of Britain’s most sadistic foster mother hanged herself when she could no longer cope with the anguish, an inquest has heard.
Victoria Spry killed herself in her flat in Cheltenham after years of worrying her childhood abuser Eunice, who was released from prison in 2014, might try to ‘exact revenge’, the coroner heard.
Victoria, who published a book called ‘Torture’ about her traumatic experiences at the hands of Eunice, was found dead at her flat by her fiance Anthony Smart on September 22 last year.
She had been discharged from a psychiatric hospital following six months of treatment just two weeks before her death.
Her fiance had spoken to her at 7.50am on the days she died. She assured him she was OK and said she would see him the next day, giving no indication of what she was about to do, the inquest was told.
Recording a conclusion of suicide, the assistant Gloucestershire Coroner Roland Wooderson said: ‘This is indeed a tragic death. I have been through the evidence and I have to say it is difficult to contemplate the mental anguish from which she suffered from a very early age.
Victoria Spry (pictured) killed herself in her flat in Cheltenham after years of worrying her childhood abuser Eunice, who was released from prison in 2014, might try to ‘exact revenge’, the coroner heard
‘The documentation shows she endured a history of what can only be termed as horrendous abuse at the hands of her mother and uncle.’
Victoria also suffered life changing injuries at the age of 14 in a car crash in which two of her siblings died, he said.
‘Despite all of that Miss Spry was described as a bright, caring and determined individual, well liked by all. Indeed she had authored a book,’ said the coroner.
‘This is a tragic, dreadful, death. It is clear to me that as a result of the tragic circumstances and history of her life she intended to take her life that day.’
Detective Sgt Jonathan Williams stated that he went to the flat after the alarm was raised by Mr Smart, who was there with his father when the officer arrived.
‘I was told she had recently been discharged from hospital and had been telling people she was suicidal,’ Sgt Williams stated.
‘There were no signs of other injuries to her or of any struggle or disturbance in the flat. There were no notes or letters that would explain the circumstances.
‘On the basis of what I have been told about her recent mental health problems and talk of self harm and possible preparation I am satisfied there was no third party involvement in her death.’
Victoria, who published a book called ‘Torture’ about her traumatic experiences at the hands of Eunice (pictured), was found dead at her flat by her fiance Anthony Smart on September 22 last year
Tamara Pascoe, a senior occupational therapist with the Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Trust, said in a statement that she was part of the Cheltenham and Tewkesbury Recovery Team that provides support to people with enduring mental illness.
‘Victoria had sadly had multiple referrals to psychiatric services since June 1997,’ stated Ms Pascoe.
‘She had a diagnosis of emotional unstable personality disorder in the context of significant childhood abuse and trauma.
‘She had been discharged from the Honeybourne Unit (a Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Trust rehabilitation unit in Cheltenham) two weeks before her death.
‘She had stopped taking her medications and there had been a significant decline in her mental health. She had made an attempt to hang herself two days prior to her death. She had been seen by our teams the day before she died. ‘
Over a period of nearly 20 years, Spry broke bones and routinely abused and starved the children or, in Victoria’s (pictured) case, rubbed her face with sandpaper
The coroner said he had received a ‘most detailed’ 74-page report from the NHS Trust about Victoria’s troubled life and the treatment and support she had received.
Mr Wooderson read out passages from the report, which began with a ‘pen portrait’ of Victoria that said: ‘The patient was a bright, caring, determined individual who was well liked by all who worked with her.
‘She had authored a book about her childhood experiences and it was so popular it was translated into three languages. She loved dogs, especially Labradors.
‘She valued her own flat because it provided her with space, peace and quiet. She had expressed a desire to study English and Maths and to return to work, even if it was on a voluntary basis – she said this just a week before her death.
‘She had expressed an interest in hairdressing and childcare.’
In the early years, Victoria had intensive physiotherapy, went to college and worked as a nursery nurse
The report continued: ‘She struggled to trust anyone, especially those in authority. She talked about hearing the voices of people in her past and described how they traumatised her. They (the voices) were often derogatory in nature. She dulled this with alcohol and drugs.
‘She was engaged to be married and her fiance was a source of support.
‘She had experienced abuse at the hands of her foster/adoptive mother and her uncle. Her foster mother had received a custodial sentence for the harm she caused the patient and her siblings.
‘The abuse was systematic. It started at one year of age and continued for 17-18 years and was severe. It is clear the patient never forgot the experiences she suffered and this cast a long shadow over her childhood.
‘She feared her mother might make contact to exact revenge for her long custodial sentence. Her foster mother has been out of prison for several years and as from September 2018 she was free to enter Gloucestershire as the licence preventing her from so doing had expired.
‘The patient had significant trust issues. She used substance and alcohol misuse to protect her from having to deal with and manage her emotional feelings.
‘The systematic abuse she had endured clearly had a marked and detrimental effect on her personality. This effect was still present at the time of her death.’
The report said the road accident which badly injured Victoria and killed two of her siblings twenty years ago had also had ‘a marked and long term effect on her mental health.’
Victoria first sought help from mental health services in 2011 when she was 25, the report said. In November 2019 she was detained by police under the Mental Health Act after she jumped from a window of her flat and ran into the road.
A month later she was found in a ‘drowsy state in a fast food restaurant’ after taking opiod pain killer tablets.
Two days later in Wotton Lawn psychiatric hospital in Gloucester she took an overdose and lost consciousness.
The report said that on March 9 last year she was admitted to the Honeybourne Unit and was discharged on September 9. She said she was ‘excited’ about leaving and getting back to her flat but a week or so later she stopped taking her medication and ‘disengaged from her social care package’.
Her risk of suicide was assessed as high at that point and she was referred to the crisis resolution and home care team. After her attempted suicide two days before her death a care plan was put into place.
The report concluded that despite the problems and restrictions of Covid last year the Trust had done all it could for Victoria and she had received an ‘appropriate, comprehensive, coherent and cohesive package of care’.
Spry was released in July 2014, which was a difficult time for all of the siblings, especially Victoria, who harboured worries that Eunice would track her down
Clinical staff had been ‘robust and persistent’ in trying to help her, said the report.
‘Although the outcome of the case was tragic, the mental health team involved in her care exercised due diligence and adhered to best practice guidelines.’
After the inquest, Victoria’s fiance said: ‘It is all still very raw. It’s terribly sad. I had known her for 11 years. We hadn’t made any wedding plans but we had been talking about it.’
In 2007 at Bristol crown court Eunice, then aged 62, was convicted of 26 charges including unlawful wounding, cruelty to a person under 16, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, perverting the course of justice, and witness intimidation.
The court heard she had beaten Victoria and two other children with sticks and metal bars, scrubbed their skin with sandpaper, and forced them to eat lard, bleach, vomit and even their own faeces.
She treated the children as if they were her slaves and ordered one of them to use a wheelchair for four years – even though the girl could walk normally – so that she could claim State Benefits.
A Jehovah’s Witness, Eunice was regarded as a pillar of her community in Tewkesbury – but behind closed doors she would punish the children because they were ‘possessed by the Devil’.
She once kept two of them imprisoned, naked and starving, in a room for a month.
She was sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment by Judge Simon Darwall-Smith, who told her: ‘You were careful to carry out what can be described as sadistic torture without being found out. If it were solely my decision, you would be facing a sentence from which you would not be released.’
Spry’s sentence was reduced to 12 years on appeal and she was freed on parole in 2014.
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