When Kerri McAuley feared for her life after being attacked by her abusive boyfriend, it was her hairdresser she confided in. She was killed in early 2017. Now, a new campaign to help hairdressers and beauticians spot the signs of domestic abuse has been launched.
It was an appointment hairdresser Annie Reilly still remembers vividly.
“She turned around and said to me, ‘I know he’s going to kill me’.
“They were words I never thought I’d hear any of my clients say.”
Kerri McAuley – aged 32, with two young boys – had confided in her about aspects of her abusive relationship, weeks before her death.
It is thought she had not dared tell her family for fear of repercussions from her then-boyfriend.
“When I opened the door she just looked at me and she collapsed into my arms, sobbing,” Annie tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.
“I comforted her, cuddled her.”
Kerri went on to explain that her boyfriend, Joe Storey, had attacked her and that she feared for her life.
“Should I have phoned the police?” Annie says. “Yes, of course I should have done – but I didn’t know they were words that were meant.
“I just thought it was a statement, a figure of speech.”
In January 2017, Storey beat Kerri so badly he broke every bone in her face. She died from her injuries.
He was sentenced to 24 years in prison after being convicted of murder.
“I’ve asked myself so many times, ‘what if?'” Annie says.
“I suppose I’ve felt guilty at times, although I’ve been reassured not just by friends and family but by Kerri’s mum there’s nothing I could have done to prevent what was going to happen.”
An official report, known as a domestic homicide review, into Kerri’s death concluded that although the police, the probation service, the CPS and social services had acted, they had all missed opportunities to keep her safe.
It also made a number of recommendations, including the suggestion of an awareness campaign aimed at hairdressers and beauticians as potential confidants of domestic abuse victims.
Now 250 of them have benefited from a conference, run by Norfolk County Council, aiming to give them the tools and confidence to know what to do if they suspect a client is in trouble.
“If you’re doing somebody’s nails and you can see some are being broken off, it’s about being curious, asking those questions,” one of the speakers tells them.
But it is also about knowing how to empower clients to call the police or when the hairdressers and beauticians themselves should contact the authorities, the council’s domestic abuse change coordinator, Christen Williams, says.
The campaign has the full support of Kerri’s family.
Her mother, Lesley McAuley, says that while she and her daughter were always “very open” with one another, perpetrators of domestic abuse often coerce and control their partners “so they don’t talk to their family and they don’t talk to their close friends”.
“That’s what he did to my daughter,” she says. “He threatened her family and friends if she spoke out to them.”
Lesley hopes the council’s initiative will mean other families do not have to go through the same pain of losing a loved one.
“That day when he murdered my daughter, he may as well have taken me with her,” she says.
“The rest of my family are totally torn apart – the whole family. He didn’t just murder my daughter that day – it was like he killed us all.”
One of those attending the training – Chris Warr, a hairdresser of 30 years – says two of her clients have been murdered by their partners.
“We’re really good at keeping secrets and we would never do anything unless someone wanted us to,” she says.
“But when we’ve listened to someone who is in trouble and we have gained their trust, the moment may come where they ask for that little bit of extra help and we’ll be there and know what to do.”
Lesley says the campaign has also allowed her daughter to have “two legacies”.
“[One is] her sons, and the other is to raise as much domestic violence awareness as we can, to get help out there for these women, children and also men being abused.”
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