Staring into my 11-month year old daughter Ava’s piercing blue eyes, my heart melted. I still couldn’t get over how beautiful she was.
It was hard to believe only a year before she was born I was told I might never have children.
My periods were all over the place and I wasn’t ovulating properly. Now, my cheerful little girl was my world.
Reaching up to me with her dummy in her hand, Ava cooed: ‘Mama.’ Smiling, I picked her up onto my knee, and placed the dummy back into her mouth.
Flicking on the TV, I said: ‘Why don’t we watch some Curious George?’ It was Ava’s favourite programme.
When the cartoon monkey appeared on the screen, she jumped up and down and giggled with delight.
It was February 2014, and I was a health student and a single mother. Ava’s dad Dean and I had been together for three years, but split with Ava was four-months-old.
The stress of parenthood piled on and moving house six weeks after Ava was born
only added to the strain.
We bickered constantly and it was obvious neither of us were happy. Sitting down one day I turned to Dean and said: ‘This isn’t working anymore, is it?’
Dean sighed and said: ‘No, you’re right, it isn’t.’
We agreed to split, and although I was devastated, it seemed like the right thing to do.
For Ava’s sake we remained friends, and Dean was still heavily involved in her life.
A few months on, I was out in town when I bumped into a local lad Lee Wright, 27.
We got chatting, and a couple of months on, our friendship blossomed into a romance.
I liked his company and we spent most of our time hanging out at each others houses.
Lee lived with his dog Snoop, and said he was an American bull dog. It never barked barked or growled but I didn’t want him anywhere near Ava.
I’d read far too many horror stories about dogs. At first Lee protested, and said: ‘But he’s safe as anything. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.’
Sharply, I replied: ‘I don’t care. It’s only while Ava’s here. Dogs and children shouldn’t be together.’
Lee agreed to keep the dog in the kitchen when we came round, and blocked the door with a speaker and a large golf bag.
Snoop also had a broken leg, so I wasn’t worried about him getting out. And whenever Lee was at mine I always put Ava straight to bed.
Standing by her cot one evening, Lee asked: ‘Why don’t you bring her downstairs
for a bit?’
Shaking my head, I said: ‘No, I don’t want to confuse her.’ In my mind, she had one mum and one dad and I didn’t want to involve Lee in her upbringing.
Curled up on Lee’s sofa one night, I yawned and Lee asked: ‘Are you tired?’ Nodding, I said: ‘Ava’s teething, so I’ve not slept for two nights.’
He said: ‘Do you want to go to bed?’ It was 9.30pm – too early to turn in for the night.
‘I reckon I can manage a bit longer,’ I said. ‘I’ll just check on Ava first. ‘
Upstairs, I picked Ava up for a cuddle before settling her back down to sleep. Blowing kisses on the way out the door, I whispered: ‘Goodnight my beautiful princess.’
Back on the sofa, my eyes grew heavier, and soon I was fast asleep. Waking up an hour later, I rubbed my eyes and saw Lee was heading upstairs.
I guessed he was going to bed so I followed sleepily. As I reached the landing, Snoop ran out the bedroom, and shot down the stairs.
I glanced towards where Ava lay, making out her silhouette from the landing light.
Reaching down to pick her up Lee was suddenly beside me screaming hysterically.
His eyes wide in horror, he said: ‘Oh my god, tell me she’s okay?’
‘Shhhh, you’ll wake her up,’ I hissed. I had no idea what Lee was talking about as he shoved past me and flicked on the light switch.
As my eyes adjusted to the light I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. The bed and the blanket covering Ava’s body were soaked in blood.
My eyes fell to a deep cut on Ava’s neck, and my body began to shake. ‘Oh my god,’ I screamed, desperately trying to stem the bleeding with my trembling fingers.
‘Get my phone,’ I screamed at Lee, who dashed out the door. My eyes went blurry and my head was spinning. ‘Mummy’s here?’ I sobbed, trying not to pass out.
I lay Ava back down in her cot and covered in kisses, desperate to make everything better.
Within seconds, Lee was back with my phone. Snatching it out of his hand, I punched in 999.
When the operator answered, I howled down the phone: ‘I need help! Please, somebody help my daughter…a dog’s got to her.’
Softly, the women on the other end tried to calm me down and said: ‘Take deep breaths, and tell me what’s happened.’
I tried to speak through my hysterics, but couldn’t find the words. In a fluster I hung up, and without thinking called my mum.
When she answered, I sobbed: ‘Mum, Ava’s dead. Please tell me what to do?’ Time seemed to stand still as I waited for the paramedics arrived, my body completely numb.
I was desperately giving Ava CPR when the police arrived.
While Ava was taken to Royal Blackburn hospital, the police stopped me from going in the ambulance.
Trying to push past the officer I yelled: ‘I need to be with my baby.’ Ava was whisked away and I was arrested under suspicion for child neglect.
My world fell apart as I was taken in for questioning. In the early hours an officer came to see me in my cell.
His eyes fixed on the floor he spoke: ‘I’m really sorry Miss King, but Ava’s gone.’
I wrapped my arms around myself and fell to the floor in a heap. No matter how many blankets they gave me I couldn’t stop shaking.
My little girl was dead and I didn’t want to live either. They were now investigating Lee and I for manslaughter by negligence.
We were both released the next day on bail, pending further inquiries. Meanwhile, Snoop was destroyed.
When mum came to pick me up from the station, she was with Dean. His face was chalk white and there were dark circles under his eyes which were bright red and bloodshot.
Tears welling in my eyes, I looked at him and said: ‘I’m so sorry, Dean.’
Grabbing me and pulling me into a hug, he whispered: ‘Shhh, it’s not your fault.’ Over the next few minutes, we stood sobbing into each others arms and neither of us wanted to let go.
He’d brought some of Ava’s clothes and breathing in her scent, shivers shot down my spine.
While the police carried on with their investigations I arranged Ava’s funeral. It was impossible to think I’d been planning her first birthday just a couple of weeks before.
The funeral passed in a grief-stricken blur and as we released balloons into the sky, I felt my heart break. A few weeks later, on Ava’s first birthday, we cut her pink ribbon birthday cake.
A couple of months on, the manslaughter charges against both myself and Lee were dropped.
Police continued their investigations into Ava’s death but I still blamed myself for taking her to Lee’s house in the first place.
The first time I saw Lee, he was apologetic until he said: ‘I know how you feel. Snoop was my baby too.’
Anger bubbled in the pit of my stomach and I ended our relationship. ‘Whenever I look at you, it reminds me what happened,’ I said.
Pleading, Lee said: ‘Don’t do this, Chloe. We can get through this.’ ‘We can’t, Lee,’ I said.
Lee wouldn’t take no as an answer and soon he turned nasty.
He sent me text messages and death threats telling me I was a terrible mum and how Ava was better off dead.
When Lee threatened to kill me I went to the police. In November 2014, Lee Wright, 27, he pleaded guilty to harassment at Blackburn Magistrate’s Court.
He was given an 18-weeks jail sentence, suspended for two years. Only my time at court didn’t end there.
Lee faced further charges for possessing a dangerous dog and after a two-day trial at the same court earlier this month (JUNE), he was found guilty.
The court heard, locals claimed to have made previous complaints about Snoop’s
Shockingly, Lee had failed to reveal that to me. He disputed claims that Snoop was a banned pitbull and insisted he was an American bulldog.
Under the the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, Lee was handed an 18-week jail term and
banned from keeping a dog for five years.
Since losing Ava, I feel like I’ve been to hell and back. Dean has been my rock throughout and losing our daughter has rekindled our love.
Only a few weeks Ava’s death we got back together and in the July I fell pregnant.
Then in March, I had a little boy, Archie. Setting eyes on him for the first time my heart ached.
He’s the spitting image of Ava and it brings me comfort knowing a little piece
of her will live on in her brother.
When Archie is older we’ll tell him all about his sister. Until then, we’re trying to rebuild our lives and one things for certain, there will always be a place in my heart for Ava.