Belfast Telegraph

Watch: 'We want a new law in memory of Charlotte, to compel killers to reveal the whereabouts of victims' remains'

 

By Claire O'Boyle

The family of Charlotte Murray have told of their plan to campaign for a new law in her name, to compel convicted killers to reveal the whereabouts of a victim's body.

Chef Johnny Miller was unanimously found guilty of murdering his former girlfriend by a jury on Tuesday - but has still not told relatives where her body is.

"The verdict was a relief," says Denise, Charlotte's identical twin. "It was what we'd been hoping for, and we were thankful to the jury and everyone who helped us through the case.

"But the relief was short-lived because as soon as we got home reality hit.

"The facts are still the same. She's still gone. We still don't have her body home and we still haven't had the chance to say goodbye.

"Charlotte deserves a proper, decent burial and her family deserve the chance to mourn her. In England, there are plans in place for 'Helen's Law' which means murderers who refuse to reveal where a victim's remains are could be denied parole.

A letter to Charlotte from her mum following her death
A letter to Charlotte from her mum following her death
The twin sisters on first Holy Communion Day
Family pictures of Mary holding twins Charlotte (left) and Denise
Charlotte and Denise
Charlotte Murray’s mother Mary, twin sister Denise, making the appeal, with sisters Michelle and Emma
Guilty: Johnny Miller

"We need that here, too. We want an equivalent law here in Northern Ireland, Charlotte's Law, in our sister's memory, because what we're going through is cruel.

"We don't know what happened to her, we don't know where she is, and we don't know if we'll ever get to say goodbye."

Opening up about their heartache, Denise, her mother Mary, and sisters Michelle and Emma, also told of their fears Charlotte's killer could have been controlling her in the months before her death.

After a four-week trial, a jury at Dungannon Crown Court took just three hours to convict Coleraine-born Miller of Charlotte's murder.

Throughout his trial the 48-year-old denied harming her, and claimed he did not believe she was dead.

He is due to be sentenced next month.

Members of Charlotte's heartbroken family attended every day of the trial - and despite the harrowing nature of the case, her mother Mary didn't miss a day. "It was terrible to listen to some of it," says Mary (65).

"Every day you went in you just didn't know what would be next, but I had to be there for Charlotte. It's been a very hard time, and I'm mostly fine, when I'm on my own or at my work at the laundry in a care home.

"It's when people talk to me about her, or try to give me a hug and say they're sorry that the tears come. It's very hard to bear."

One of the most difficult things to emerge from the trial, says Denise, was the impression that Charlotte's family had been distant from her, that perhaps they didn't care.

They hadn't seen her for months before police believe she was murdered, between October 31 and November 2 2012, and they didn't report her missing to police for many months after that.

"All that is correct," says Denise. "But the situation was more complicated than that.

"Johnny Miller took her away from us. She moved in with him just a couple of months after they met, miles away from where we all lived in Omagh, and then she was gone. It would be the odd phone call or a message on Facebook. We didn't even know exactly where she lived.

"We're convinced he was controlling her, and she once asked my mum if she still loved her. Why would she ask her that? We think he put it in her head.

"Then Charlotte got a call late at night over something to do with me, and he went mad. She was upset with me then because they'd argued, and we fell out. That was March 2012 and we never spoke again. I thought it would blow over, but before we got a chance to make it up, it was too late."

Denise says if one positive thing can come out of her sister's death, it would be for families to be more alert to the danger signs of "controlling" relationships.

"We didn't understand what was happening," says Denise. "We never met him, but I suppose that was strange anyway because we'd always met her previous boyfriends. Mum had spoken to her in the autumn.

"For a family who had been so close, she ended up isolated, miles away from her family with a man we didn't know and when those strange things happened we didn't intervene. We didn't want to interfere, or get ourselves in the middle of something between them. That's something we'll have to live with."

The first time any of the family met Miller was in March 2013, around three months after Denise had contacted him to help track down her sister.

"By that time we thought they'd split up," says Denise. "There are 11 brothers and sisters in the family, so the chances of us all being in the same place at the same time are slim, and for ages I think everyone presumed she'd have spoken to someone else.

"Mum had spoken to her in around October and after that thought maybe one of us had annoyed her, and I knew Charlotte was cross with me. Then we started to ask friends, other people she'd known. We didn't want to jump to some mad conclusion so we took a couple of weeks before we even contacted him."

And after messages on Facebook in January 2013 and a call to his work, Miller agreed to meet Denise - but not until March that year.

"I was the first one to meet him, along with one of my brothers," says Denise.

"I didn't like him. He told me she'd just recently got a loan from the Credit Union, and a new passport.

"I quizzed him a lot, I asked where she was and why had she not been in contact. He made out like she'd gone off on holiday, swanning off somewhere to suit herself.

"At the time I believed him. But looking back at him he was shifty, and he couldn't look me in the eye. He'd said I looked like her which must have been strange for him.

"I believed him. He led me and the whole family down the wrong path, and he got himself a few extra months. We didn't report her missing until May.

"Now, I feel gullible. I feel stupid and sickened by it all and I just wish I could have seen through his lies," Denise adds.

Throughout their lives, Charlotte and Denise - numbers six and seven in the family of 11 children - were "thick as thieves".

"We didn't need anyone else," says Denise (40).

"It was the two of us always. We were tomboys together, always playing in the muck and climbing trees. We were right in the middle of the family, and she was always the louder, more confident one. She was the life and soul of the party, she was the first one on the dance floor and she didn't let anything worry her.

"People don't know what to think of the twin relationship, but we always had that sort of connection.

"When I was pregnant she put on a stone-and-a-half in weight, and she was convinced when I was in labour she had the pains too.

"We laughed at her at the time, but we had the same scars on our hands, our foreheads and the sides of our eyes too.

"And one night in November that year, around the time she must have died, I woke up from my sleep around 3.30 in the night and felt like there were two hands around my neck. I was choking at the side of the bed.

"I told one of my other sisters at the time, but we didn't think anything of it back then. It was only later, when we realised she'd died, that it made sense.

"And I was so sad around that time, too. I thought I had that seasonal SAD disorder, where you feel down and unhappy in the winter, but now, I think I knew."

As she and the family look ahead, Denise plans to fight for her sister - and to encourage other women in difficult relationships to get out.

"All through our lives together, from when we were tiny, Charlotte would speak for me, and I was happy for her to do it. But now it's my turn to speak for her, and for all those women like her who are in trouble. If it's you, get away.

"And if you're like us, you're the family who have noticed strange things happening or something doesn't sit right, then say something.

"Charlotte always did her own thing, and we didn't like to interfere and tell her what she was doing was right or wrong.

"That's something we'll have to swallow.

"But for now, all we want is to get her back, to give her some peace and to be allowed to say goodbye."

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