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Lovely Libby

When asked if I would like to contribute to this very personal page of emotional writings I thought I would use the journal I wrote in when the early days of grief seemed hopeless and so draining. I would write every evening, turning the pages with raw emotions, anger and revenge. I decided that after re-reading some of my very raw feelings it was actually too upsetting to put myself back in those early days.

So now I shall write as a parent that has battled grief for almost 10 years since the loss off our daughter. From the raw beginnings, to where we are now and how we worry about our inevitable future due to the shite judicial system that is in place.

Having been put through the system once when the little bastard was caught, held, the court hearing and then sentencing, Andy and I now face the fact that in 3 years he is potentially allowed to apply for parole. So, you see, we are never free to try and rebuild our damaged hearts and minds when there is this abhorrent and archaic system in place. At what stage are we going to say to the Parole Board, OK, let him leave prison and live a normal life, let’s see if the fractured mind of a 14-year-old, two weeks away from turning 15, who, let’s face it, knew right from wrong on that fateful day. Why is it partly our duty to go through these horrendous meetings to try and convince the Parole Board that he is not fit to be released? I am at a loss for words that as victims also of this trauma, we are annually re-victimised and will continue to be for the rest of our lives whilst eventually he WILL get to swan about getting on with his. I see no justice in this.

To say we are the voice of Libby sounds so cliché, but we are, and we will endeavour to do whatever it takes to keep him inside.

What both Andy and I have learned is that when you lose a child you can only take real comfort from parents of those who have walked in your shoes. It takes a parent of a child who has been murdered to fully understand what you are going through, and that’s because it’s a different kind of trauma and because of how we, the remaining family, are treated. This doesn’t marginalise grief, it’s just a different understanding of trauma.

Libby was murdered on the 1st November 2008, almost 10 years ago as I write this. Each year that passes I feel it is expected that we should somehow feel a little better, that it won’t hurt so much. ‘Time’ they say is a healer. Who says that? The reality is very different. Your life changes in so many unexpected ways. Your daily challenges become mountains in those early days which you somehow have to learn to manage, emotionally, methodically and patiently. Only the strongest and honest of relationships will survive and find a way to look forward. It’s hard, very, very hard, so please be patient with yourselves and keep working on it.

Andy and I emigrated from the UK to New Zealand in 2005. We had lived in Kerikeri for 3 years when work dictated the reluctant move to the North Shore. But in true Templeman style we took the challenge on with gusto. We had been in our new home for 10 days and the weekend before Libby was due to start at Rangitoto College she asked if she could go back to Kerikeri and stay with her best friend and family. We saw no reason to say no, after all it was just geography. We had often had kids saying over and Libby would go and stay with her friends, it was a normal teenagers weekend activity. Despite the distance, we knew with whom and where she was staying. Strict ground rules set up, transport sorted, phone topped up, school uniform bought, and school bags packed ready for Monday, she was all set to go and have a fab, fun time catching up with her friends.

We had kept in constant contact from the Friday afternoon when she left right up until about 35 minutes before she died. In fact, the last text conversation we exchanged was on the Saturday afternoon – Me: “So how are feeling being in Kerikeri again, what are you up to?” Libby: “I’m with the President, actually I miss home and I miss you guys” Me: “I’m sorry we had to leave but we needed this move” Libby: “No mum, I want to come home, I miss you guys.”

This was the last communication I received. We were out looking for a new fridge freezer at the time, funny what you remember!

I phoned her later that evening, but it went straight to her answer phone, I thought this very odd as her phone was never out of battery. For whatever reason I felt panic rise and knew that something was wrong. I tried several times to text and call but to no avail. I contacted her friend who was working and was told they were not expected to meet up until later that evening. I continued several times to make contact.

As a parent, we like to think we know our kids and after a couple hours we both felt there was something very wrong. Some people may have thought we were overacting but of course in hindsight, we actually did know best. We rang the local Kerikeri police station to file a missing person to which we were told 1) It was too early to file a missing persons report and 2) there were several parties going on that weekend and so not to worry, she was probably having some fun, had a drink and sleeping it off! It was 9pm and we knew our daughter.

Ironically, the police officer who was dealing with our call and said this to us was the officer who discovered Libby’s body. He has confessed he will never say this to another parent and has learnt a valuable lesson.

Andy decided to drive to Kerikeri while I stayed at home with our 12-year-old son Billy. I had a friend Clare join me that evening, the only person we knew living locally. I continued to make calls to her friends, trying to gather a picture of events. We had a rule that we needed to have all her contacts written down, she was happy to oblige and thank goodness she did. I became a detective that night speaking to several people who had spent the afternoon with her at a BBQ. I was then told that she left with X (I shall not use his name) as he had offered to walk her back into town to meet her friend. I found X’s telephone number on her contact list and called his number, it must have been about 10:30pm, I remember apologising for ringing so late.

All of Libby’s friends by this stage knew that she had not been seen since she left the BBQ late that afternoon with X and were worried as this was so out of character. Libby always wanted to be seen and heard!

I remember my conversation with him (X) vividly because he made a couple of silly errors when answering my questions but more importantly, he did not seem worried about her absence, he was the only one not to show emotion of her odd disappearance. It absolutely stuck out like a sore thumb. I thought about his answers and our conversation all night, something just didn’t add up… I called him again early the following morning just to clarify something and he changed his story. I wouldn’t say Libby was lazy but unless in the company of others she would prefer not to walk, always preferring a lift. So, when he said the previous evening that when he dropped her off at the school and watched her walk through the school grounds I accept that but now in the morning he said that she decided to walk back with him and was then happy to walk back into town on her own, I just knew he was lying. She didn’t walk anywhere alone unless she had to and certainly not an extra 4/5k’s! I tried asking him more questions, but he was faltering, and I could feel his uneasiness.

The following day, Sunday, it was the local Kerikeri primary school fundraiser. Libby’s friends had made posters, and these were now plastered all over the town and announcements made over the school tannoy asking if anyone had seen her. Police were now involved, and the search was on. As mentioned earlier, the officer who met my husband the previous evening was now on duty and whilst out looking he saw a small clearing in some scrub in an old, disused orchard which was on the road where Libby was last seen, he decided to investigate, he followed the beaten down tall grass and brambles and eventually came to a clearing where he could see there had been a struggle as the grass was flattened and blood was found in the area. Eventually, he saw Libby’s lifeless body lying face down on the opposite side of the Wairoa stream. The stream is tidal. She had been there since approximately 6:10pm the previous Saturday evening, it was now Sunday late afternoon. Nothing prepares you for seeing death and especially not a murder.

During the course of the Sunday Andy was out helping look for Libby with the help of some of our very dear friends. He had spent many hours during the night combing the area, calling her name and searching in lots of areas around Kerikeri. He was shattered and frightened. We kept in touch keeping our calls short in case she made contact. I needed to stay home in case she turned up as well as look after our son. We were both so frightened and disconnected as we individually did what we could in our search for Libby. At one stage Andy was standing in the Police Station when X was there too, he was with some friends ‘helping’ to look for Libby. Although Andy can’t remember it, X actually spoke to Andy saying he hoped she was found soon, and he was looking for her too.

A short while after one of our friends, David, pulled up outside the police station and spoke to Andy just as the police were informed that a body had been found. Andy was asked to go into the station and David accompanied him along with our other friends whom had been with Andy a lot of the night and day. They were taken into a room at the back of the station and told that a young woman fitting Libby’s description had been found. Dead. I have been told the guttural noise that came from within Andy was so primitive. They will never forget that day or that moment.

At this early stage it was suggested that foul play had indeed played a part in Libby’s death although they could not say how they came to this conclusion. We found out later her half naked body had been beaten, face and head punched several times and an attempted strangulation had taken place, although none of these injuries were the cause of death. They did however render Libby unconscious. X then dragged her semi clothed body across gorse and brambles, bruising and scratching her already beaten and now unconscious body, rolled her down a bank into the water, dragged her across the 5 metre stream and placed her face down in the water. Libby was still alive at this stage. According to the police records he then put on his shoes, cycled home, changed his blood-stained clothes, attended to an email and then proceeded to watch the movie Liar Liar. How fitting!

Andy was driven home that Sunday night by David followed by our other two friends. Andy and I exchanged a phone call and I sensed straight away that he was coming home alone. He couldn’t contain his emotions and told me that Libby had died. The boys arrived home late, a Police officer and Lorraine from Victim Support followed them in. When we saw each other it was almost surreal, neither not knowing what to do or say to each other, feeling the eyes of people on us. We hung on for dear life, not understanding what was about to unfold.

The rest of the week went by in a haze of disjointed phone calls from the Police and very few visits until we were asked for our statements and to be honest we both felt out on a limb, often finding out what was happening through media and TV rather than first hand. That first week was shocking as far as Police presence and assistance was concerned. After that, I have to say that our assigned officers in charge were really very good and were there to answer questions at any time.

Going through the courts was harrowing, nothing was hidden, and we were in the forefront of the media for weeks on end. No amount of words or guidance really prepares you. During the trial we were so exposed but fortunately not exploited. The reporters were very respectful and kind, we are still in touch with a few from time to time, as friends.

The sentencing was nothing short of shocking for everyone and a relief for his family. I remember seeing his father smirk… how I wished I had wiped that from his face! With a judge who was afraid to hand out the punishment fitting to a murderer, as in Life means life and not life with a 11.5 year non-parole period and according to the Judge, he thought his (X) age needed to be taken into consideration. Apparently, he showed immaturity, however no lack of remorse! His immaturity the judge thought contributed to his lying 3 times to the Police and in the courts. The judge wondered if he really understood right from wrong! Most young children at the age of 7 can tell you what is right and wrong, so I find this difficult to understand. The judge used the word ’cunning and guile’ in his summing up and although X didn’t start out to harm anyone that day; an opportunity presented itself to him and he took it. There were several times when he made stupid decisions to cover up his actions. He didn’t know when to stop then and given the same rage may not know how to stop his actions again should another opportunity present itself. The summing up is available on line, just google and decipher for yourselves!

The upshot is the Judge felt unable to give a harsher sentence. I have followed with interest other cases where again the Judges are weak. Someone needs to make a stand, make a point of difference when criminals go to court. Forget about the lack of jail beds, who gives a damn? Let them share 4 or 6 to a room, work to earn a mattress, loo paper, hot meals and warm blankets. The majority of people would say the same but perhaps not so outspokenly. Walk in our shoes and you will change your mind. The Bangkok Hilton is a mens prison in Nonthaburi Province, 11 km north of Bangkok. Once incarcerated, well the prisoners know they are in Hell. This is the punishment that comes to my mind when a heinous crime is committed. Life for a life. Done.

Greg King the late criminal defence barrister offered his service pro-bono to investigate if X could be deported back to South Africa having served his sentence. Despite being an immigrant, it seems that if you have New Zealand citizenship it won’t be rescinded even if you are found guilty of taking a life! There is something very wrong with the immigration process when Citizens (or not) the New Zealand Government and people do not want unwelcoming, dangerous criminals as their guests. Send them back. Surely the Government has more important things to spend our money on…

Libby’s zest for life was infectious. Her sense of humour dry and extremely mature for her age. Her ’surround sound’ followed her with a hum of music, phone buzzing, camera clicking and bubbles of giggles. Whilst not an academic her life skills and passion for song, theatre and stage was very strong. At the age of 15 she played Princess Yasmin for the Kerikeri players production on ‘Sinbad the Sailor’. It was a riot of fun and she was excellent in her role taking it very seriously. Who would have thought that just 4 weeks later she would be centre stage again at the same theatre attending her own funeral?

Each day is a good day. Each day I count as a blessing. Each day I get to see my husband Andy and our son Bill who is now 22. I feel blessed we have found a way to manage our new lives without Libby. We are stronger in so many ways and yet so fragile. A song, a smell even the stillness or the warmth of summer sun can shatter our emotions like shards of glass. We tread carefully, have our wall of mirrors reflecting negativity outwards whilst creating an inner wall keeping us safe. We certainly don’t sweat the small stuff anymore but more frighteningly, we subconsciously count the days till we shall see her again. Death doesn’t frighten me as it used to. Whilst when my time comes I won’t want to leave my family and friends, I can’t wait to be reunited with our gorgeous girl again.

By Rebecca Templeman