September 23, 2021, 19:58

    ‘My best friend’s body was left to rot in airing cupboard for 15 months – I still blame myself’

    ‘My best friend’s body was left to rot in airing cupboard for 15 months – I still blame myself’

    The family of a woman whose body was left to rot in a cupboard for over a year have launched a support group for survivors of domestic abuse.

    Andrew Colin Reade, then 43, admitted to concealing the body of his partner, Vicky Cherry, 44, who had not been seen alive since October 2015.

    Her body was hidden inside an airing cupboard for 15 months as Reade claimed to friends she had left him and moved out.

    He was arrested on suspicion of murder but claimed he found her dead in bed next to him.

    He was jailed for four years and four months in June 2017 after he admitted preventing a lawful burial and perverting justice. The state of her remains meant there was insufficient evidence and there was no further action following the murder arrest.

    Neighbours told an inquest they recalled a strange odour inside the one-bedroom flat and revealed how Reade tried to cover it up with air-freshener when they were invited round.

    Donna still wonders if she could have done more to help her friend


    Vicky completely vanished


    A Domestic Homicide Review published at the end of June 2019 revealed failings by the police and other agencies who ought to have been looking her.

    Now Vicky's cousin, Donna Gregory, who was best pals with the tragic mum for many years, has revealed she is to start a charity, called 'Stay Safe Survivors' in her memory.

    Donna, 42, says: "I was the last known person to speak to Vicky before her death. I carried her coffin at her funeral but we were told there was very little left of her. It was sickening.

    "She had such an undignified, horrible death. The very least she deserved was a proper burial.

    Donna Gregory


    The women grew up together and were extremely close


    "I blame myself, because she was supposed to come and live with me; she was days away from a new start. Maybe I could have saved her.

    "And maybe the authorities could have saved her too; if anything good can come of her death it should be that lessons are learned and other women are better protected. I hope, through our charity, to be able to help other women. Vicky would be proud of her legacy."

    Donna and Vicky were best friends as well as cousins. They grew up in Preston, Lancashire, and their mothers were sisters.

    Donna, from Sheffield, says: "Vicky was older than me, and she looked after me and mothered me. I really looked up to her. If she liked a band, I liked them too. If she dyed her hair, I'd do mine the same. I idolised her.

    "As we got older, we'd go out together and we became such good friends.

    The house in bolton where Vicky Cherry was found


    "Vicky had a troubled up-bringing and she had her problems. But she had a heart of gold."

    Vicky went on to have three children and Donna had five. She and Donna stayed in touch and spoke daily on the phone.

    In 2013, Vicky's husband, Steve Cherry, died from an epileptic fit and she was devastated.

    Donna says: "She really struggled after Steve died, and she went through a tough time. She self-medicated with drugs."

    The following year, Vicky began a relationship with Andrew Reed. The couple met at a New Year's Eve party.

    says: "I met Andrew just once, at our grandmother's funeral, and I disliked him immediately. He and Vicky appeared very close but I later realised it was because he was so possessive and he wouldn't let her out of his sight.

    "She confided in me that they were arguing a lot and I was worried about her. She was quite vulnerable and I wish now, looking back, I had done more to try to talk her into leaving him, there and then."

    One week before she went missing, in October 2015, Vicky called Donna and asked if she could go and live with her.

    Little did she know it was the last time she would ever speak to Vicky. She was the last known person to have any contact with her.

    Donna says: "Vicky told me she'd had enough of Andrew. We made plans for her to come and live with me. I was looking forward to it, and I knew she'd be much happier if she was single again."

    There was a police appeal after Vicky went missing

    But over the next two weeks, Donna could not contact Vicky and she became concerned.

    Donna says: "I called and texted her constantly and she just didn't reply. In the end, I was actually annoyed with her. I thought she had decided to stay with Andrew and she just didn't want to tell me.

    "I sent her a message to say: 'I presume you've changed your mind and you're sticking with him. You could at least have let me know.'

    "I was really angry.

    "I called Vicky's mum and she hadn't hear from her either. But we knew Vicky had a chaotic lifestyle and we just expected her to turn up at some point."

    But Vicky seemed to have disappeared.

    Her body was in the airing cupboard for 15 months


    Donna says: "I began to worry; I asked around and nobody knew where she was. I called the police but they didn't seem to take it seriously; they went to the house but couldn't find her."

    Police eventually launched an appeal but the case seemed to make no progress.

    Donna says: "Vicky had vanished into thin air. We couldn't work it out. I was so worried about her; as time went on, I knew she had to be dead. It was the only explanation."

    In January 2017, Vicky's body was found in a cupboard at her home and Reade was arrested on suspicion of murder.

    Donna says: "I was preparing myself that she was dead. But I could never have been prepared for what had happened to her.

    The police had found her body, stuffed in a cupboard, underneath old bike parts."

    Donna carried Vicky's coffin at her funeral in March 2017.

    In June that same year, Andrew Colin Reade, 43, pleaded guilty to concealing Vicky's body for 15 months and preventing her burial.
    The cause of death could not be ascertained because it had decomposed, but a pathologist concluded she may have died as a result of strangulation as injuries to her neck were detected.

    Reade claimed he had panicked after he woke to find his girlfriend dead after they had taken a cocktail of illicit drugs.

    He had wrapped the body in a duvet and plastic sheeting and hidden it in a cupboard.

    He admitted intending to pervert the course of justice by giving misleading and inaccurate information about the whereabouts of Victoria to police officers, pharmacists, and family members.

    He had cashed in employment benefits totalling up to £1,000 sent to Vicky in the three months after her death.

    He was jailed for four years and four months at Bolton Crown Court.

    He didn't attend the inquest into her death in November that year and an open verdict was recorded.

    A report, published at the end of June 2019, revealed that police and other agencies involved with Vicky and Andrew Reade did not consider the possibility of domestic abuse and did not communicate well enough with each other.

    Four months after the discovery of Vicky's body Bolton's Be Safe Strategic Partnership decided to conduct a review into how organisations dealt with the couple in order to establish any lessons which can be learnt for the future.

    It found that Reade's previous history as a domestic abuser was not sufficiently recognised or information shared between agencies such as the former Bolton Integrated Drug and Alcohol Service (BiDAS), GPs, Bolton at Home, the National Probation Service and the Community Rehabilitation Company.

    His potential risk may have been "under estimated".

    It stated: “This case indicates a general absence of awareness of, and curiosity about, domestic abuse within a range of professional disciplines."

    The report offers an insight into Reade’s coercive and controlling behaviour towards Ms Cherry.

    The couple were both drug users and moved to Bolton in April 2014.

    Ms Cherry had fled violent relationships before while Reade had a ‘significant criminal history’, as well as a history of abuse of female partners, the report said.

    While Ms Cherry went through periods of little or no contact with her family in Preston, her mum was concerned about Reade’s ‘hold over her'.

    Bolton Integrated Drug and Alcohol Service (BiDAS), where the couple were both clients, and Ms Reade’s GP were criticised in the report for not sharing information.

    “Both BiDAS and her GP recognised that [Reade] had vulnerabilities, but their focus was primarily on vulnerabilities associated with her mental health, including previous suicide attempts and her use of illicit and prescription drugs,” the report explained.

    “There appeared to be no consideration of how a person with her vulnerabilities might be faring in her most intimate relationship.”

    Reade and Vicky were both drug addicts and each had had involvement with a number of agencies over the years. But the review states that there was a culture of "silo working" where organisations did not share information.

    "It is not known how widespread the silo working so evident in this case is," says the report, which added that one contributor suggests it is partly due to austerity, leading organisations to focus mainly on complying with internal policies and processes rather than looking at a wider picture.

    A series of 42 recommendations are made in the report for improvements by nine of the agencies involved with Vicky and Reade and five multi-agency recommendations.

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