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Maureen Goddard: 'I blame myself every day and feel I'm responsible for his death - now I'm the one serving the life sentence'

Maureen Goddard, wife of Matthew who was brutally murdered in east Belfast in 2014, talks about their life together, forgiving her husband's killers, and how she continues to live in fear today.

By Claire McNeilly

Nobody would have blamed Maureen Goddard if she had left Northern Ireland as soon as humanly possible. There were precious few reasons for the Zimbabwe-born mother-of-two to stay, and compelling ones for her to flee.

After all, her husband Matthew Goddard had been brutally murdered in his east Belfast home while she was out of the country.

Not only that, the 45-year-old former post office worker has had to run the gauntlet of racist abuse and intimidation since being widowed in the most horrific of circumstances.

It has left her suffering anxiety and depression, and some days she can't even bring herself to get out of bed.

But Maureen Goddard has found great inner strength in the face of adversity. She has learned to dig deep in the aftermath of Matthew's death on Christmas Eve 2014 following a savage beating.

And today, despite everything, she is still living in east Belfast, just a few minutes' walk away from the scene of a crime that shocked even those people hardened to merciless violence in Northern Ireland.

She recently started playing tennis again - indeed she is now club captain - and is behind a charity fundraising event at CIYMS this weekend for Cruse Bereavement Care, an organisation that she credits with having helped her so much in recent times when she was at her lowest ebb.

The bitter irony for Maureen is that she and Matthew - whom she called Matt - were going to live together again following a troubled period apart during their marriage. But then the evil men came calling.

"I had gone to Zimbabwe for my grandmum Sophie's funeral when my son Tinashe, Matt's stepson, phoned on December 27 to say that his dad had been murdered," she recalled.

"Initially, I didn't believe it because I'd heard nothing from the police but when I realised it was true I was in such a state.

"Worst of all, it was almost impossible to get a flight back to Northern Ireland because it was Christmas."

A devastated, traumatised Maureen, who had to travel home alone, finally made it back to Belfast with the help of the British Embassy - via Zambia, Kenya, Dubai, Ethiopia and London Gatwick - on January 2, 2015.

And, to add to the pain, she had to spend most of the flight time standing - as she hadn't been allocated seats - and her luggage got lost in one of the five countries she passed through on that nightmare six-day journey.

Up until she answered that fateful call, Maureen had been coming home for a romantic reunion with Matthew; little did she know she would never see him again.

"Matt and I had been separated since 2009. We were still husband and wife, but we weren't living in the same house," she said.

"Just before he was killed we had decided to move in together again in 2015 to give our relationship another chance.

"Previously, he had fallen into bad company but I was hoping he would get the help he needed.

"I spoke to him on the phone on December 22 - the day before he was attacked - and he told me he was going to spend Christmas Day at my house with Tinashe and my daughter Zoe.

"The last thing he said was that he'd speak to me again the following day."

She added: "When the children didn't hear from him they thought he had just gone back to his old ways, but then, on December 27, Zoe got formal confirmation of his death and we were all forced to deal with the hideous truth."

Matthew Goddard (41) was brutally beaten with fists, feet and an electric guitar before his assailants took turns to stamp on his head throughout a savage 10-minute attack, during which he was made to crawl on all fours.

It happened shortly after 11pm on December 23 in his Chobham Street home, not far from the iconic Cyprus Avenue made famous by Sir Van Morrison. He died in the early hours of Christmas Eve.

His lifeless body was discovered at the bottom of the stairs in the property at 9pm on December 24 by a friend who had called in to collect presents.

Maureen says the brutal, unforgiving nature of Matthew's death haunts her every single day.

"It plays on my mind because at the funeral it had to be a closed coffin," she said.

"I didn't even get a chance to touch his hand or see him to be sure that it was Matt.

"I know he was brutally attacked - I read the autopsy report all the way through from page one to page 34.

"I read about all his injuries because I felt that it would help to find some answers to my questions but it just brought pain. I felt his pain. Matt had a slim build. What they did to him must have caused unimaginable suffering.

"If they'd pushed him down the stairs and he had hit his head and died that way it would have been better, but the way they murdered him was inhuman."

Brothers William (37) and James Turner (30) were each sentenced to a minimum of 17 years in prison for Matthew's murder.

It emerged in court that their attack was provoked by an alleged comment that James Turner was 'a sandwich short of a picnic'.

Co-accused Christian Walker (27) - who was present at the murder but didn't participate -was given an 18-month jail sentence, suspended for two years.

Maureen, who attended the high-profile trial at Belfast Crown Court, says it was there she learned her late husband was still clinging to life when his attackers fled.

"They left him there to die," she said. "He could have been saved. He was still breathing. Paramedics might have been able to help him.

"How could they have been so cruel not to have called an ambulance?

"I don't know how they can live with themselves."

Just prior to launching their murderous attack on Matthew, the Turner brothers had been socialising in a pub.

Following an argument over a game of pool, William Turner attacked a man and gouged his eye, leaving him completely blind in that eye.

Although Maureen's strong Christian faith has helped her forgive her husband's killers, she says she feels let down by a justice system that subsequently allowed them compassionate leave after their imprisonment.

She also admits their lengthy jail terms bring little consolation.

"It doesn't make any difference to me whether they got two years or 100 - no amount of jail time is going to bring Matt back and that's the only thing that would be enough for me," she said.

But the nightmare didn't end after the sentencing, with Maureen suffering verbal and physical abuse to the point that she says Northern Ireland, with Matt gone, no longer feels like home.

The couple, who met in England in 2001, moved to Belfast in 2007 because Matthew wanted to come back home.

That decision will remain a source of profound grief for Maureen, who believes her husband would still be alive had they stayed in Luton.

"I had been happy here and I felt I belonged, but since Matt died everything has changed," she said.

"Now I very much regret moving here. I now think it was the worst mistake.

"In England, Matt was working, he had good friends, we had a great life.

"I blame myself every day - if only I'd said no then Matt would still be alive.

"I feel I am responsible for his death. I'm the one now serving the life sentence."

Maureen says that Tinashe (27), an engineer, and 19-year-old Zoe, who is studying business management at university, are dealing with their stepfather's death in different ways.

Their biological father, Maureen's childhood sweetheart Themba, a diabetic who was insulin dependent, died aged 31 after going into a coma, but she says that Matthew treated her children as if they were his own.

"He was a real father figure to them. Apart from being a different colour you wouldn't have known they weren't his," she said.

"Zoe was very close to Matt. When he died, she ran away for three days which was awful. She just didn't want to stay here. She packed a bag and went to a friend's. My neighbour and I went searching for her.

"Everything was upside down but now she tries to get on with things."

She added: "Tinashe doesn't like to talk about Matt's death. He'll change the subject or leave the room. His focus is on trying to keep our family together because he's seen how this has affected me mentally and physically."

The long, dark days that have followed Matthew's senseless murder have taken their toll on Maureen, who lost her own mother, Patricia, and father, Wilfred, in her native country.

Her mother, a diabetic, was only 53 when she died from an attack in 2001, while her father passed away in 1997, aged 59.

Maureen, her brother Raymond (48) and 31-year-old sister Michelle were brought up by her grandmother, Sophie, who died aged 91.

She was at Sophie's funeral when she learned of the tragic news from Belfast.

Although a post office employee of 25 years service, she hasn't been back to work since the murder.

Last year Maureen, Tinashe and Zoe didn't celebrate Christmas at all.

"I have good days and bad days," said Maureen.

"There are times when I can't bring myself to get out of bed.

"I'm terrified of leaving the house or going shopping alone. I'm frightened after what happened.

"I don't have any family here so I rely on support from neighbours and friends at the tennis club."

An avid player since she was 10, Maureen joined CIYMS (Church of Ireland Young Men's Society) in 2009, but she quit for 34 months after becoming a widow.

This Saturday, a round robin tournament is being held there to raise funds for Cruse, and her children are providing the prizes. It's Maureen's way of giving something back to the people who have helped her.

"We're asking people to come along and give donations to Cruse which does a lot of good work for people like me," she said.

Having returned last October, she believes her "tennis family" has helped her through her tough times - but she knows how hard it's going to be to fill the void after losing her husband.

"I miss his sense of humour, I miss talking to him, I miss his hugs and most of all I miss his love," she said.

"Matt made me the woman, the wife and the mother I am today, and the love we had for each other was so strong.

"I'll always love Matt until the day I die and his death will always be part of me."

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