Young woman who was abducted just yards from her home breaks silence over ordeal
The young victim of an abduction just yards from her home has spoken for the first time about the moment her attacker tried to bundle her in the boot of his car in broad daylight.
And Sunday Life can reveal what the inside of that boot looked like as sick kidnapper Jeffrey Kelly attempted to execute the next part of his plan.
As you can see it’s messy, but behind the jump leads is a rope police suspect could have been used to stop his victim fighting back anymore if he had managed to successfully lock her in.
The 23-year-old told us she knows how Sarah Everard must have felt when her killer, Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, lured her into his vehicle and to her death.
That’s because the same thing almost happened to her just 10 months before — not in London — but right here in Northern Ireland. We’ve called her Diane to protect her identity.
“I just really do feel for what she (Sarah Everard) went through, just those feelings of complete and utter helplessness, that there is nothing you can really do. And the rush going through your mind, so many thoughts,’’ she says.
“You have an idea of what’s coming but you don’t know exactly, so your mind starts going to those places to try and prepare yourself. It probably is some sort of survival mechanism.”
Diane wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen to her.
It was May 2020, and a predator was on the prowl in Portadown, looking to pluck a woman off the streets.
But our victim, who is a teacher, lived to tell the tale to recount her remarkable fight for survival.
“Chatting to the detective afterwards he said, ‘You were very, very lucky, had the boot closed, it could have been a rape and murder case’.
“I was just lost for words. It was hard to know what to think, what to feel. Just a lot of relief that it didn’t happen.”
The man who tried to kidnap Diane that May morning has just been jailed for nine years and ordered that he will be subject to an extra four years on licence when released.
Kelly was online looking at escort sites just before he got into his car, scouring the streets for innocent women.
Diane wasn’t the first he followed that morning — but he jumped at what he saw was the perfect opportunity.
The 32-year-old pounced as Diane returned from a walk to the family home in Portadown.
She had no idea Kelly was lying in wait at the corner of a laneway used as a shortcut into a housing development.
“I love a morning walk. I could see my house from where I was. I was just listening to music, just in my own wee world and that’s when it happened,’’ recalls Diane.
“I just skimmed past it (the laneway) when he grabbed me in. I initially thought this must be a prank, I must know who this person is. There were a lot of confused feelings.
“Then it was just a physical struggle trying to get away, but he was a very tall, well-built guy.
“I remember his grip was very strong. I remember thinking he will stop, he will realise he shouldn’t be doing this.
“I tried to dig my heels into the ground, resist, grab onto anything around me. But he was just too strong and that’s when the fear just increased.
“I knew I hadn’t seen mum or dad that morning, no one knew I was out, so I freaked out even more because this wasn’t going well.
“Initially I thought he wanted to rob me, I was shouting, ‘Take my phone, take my headphones, take anything from my pockets’.
“He didn’t say anything. I felt his breathing. With the physical exertion, grunting, noises like that.”
Kelly already had his car backed up at the end of the lane — the boot wide open ready for his young victim.
“He seemed very intent on lifting me, I was upside down at the time and I just remember seeing the boot of the car open at the other end of the alleyway and I knew this was really bad.
“I was screaming for someone to hear, I just roared. In my head I was crying out to God as well in desperation.
“My life did flash before my eyes and I remember thinking I’m still quite young, this is not how I saw my life going at all.
“I hadn’t got to say goodbye that morning to them (parents) and that just really hit me hard.”
Within seconds, Diane was in the boot of Kelly’s car.
“He threw me in head first, so my head was in the boot and it was my feet that were still out of the boot and that’s when I saw him for the first time and I remember that was just terrifying.
“Before that he was towering above me whereas this time he was looking down. Seeing his face was a whole other thing in itself. It was the most terrifying face I had ever seen and I guess it was because of what he was trying to do. I thought everything about him was terrifying.
“I remember trying to look for some sign of emotion in the desperation. Going through my head I thought, ‘Am I going to have to try and reason with him?’ but when I saw his face I knew it was cold and really terrifying.
“He was trying to close the boot down on my feet. I just remember trying to throw myself out, and I remember being down by the car outside of the boot and that’s when I started to scream, literally scream for my life and then I was in the boot again and then somehow, I don’t know how I got out of the boot, but I did. It happened so fast, so much was going through my head. The irony was I had a knee injury. I didn’t feel up to full strength at all.
“Yes, I managed to get out of the boot, I was kicking him, but apart from that I just felt very weak, I didn’t feel I had much hope. I just remember it hit me, there is a house right next to this car, why is he doing it here, this seems ridiculous, people are metres away in their house and that’s when I knew I needed to scream and I gave it my all.”
And that appeared to work. As quickly as he snatched her, Kelly suddenly let her go. Things clearly not going to plan.
“I was on the ground trying to get away myself, but he did let go and told me to run. He pushed me in the direction of the alleyway.
“I just remember being in complete shock I was free but I didn’t feel free, I didn’t feel safe at all. And then I knew I needed to get home, I didn’t know how to.
“I just ran straight out across the road, that’s when his car passed me, I remember just thinking what if he changed his mind, realising I had seen him, that I could maybe identify him.
“I just kept running, tried not to look at him. I ran up the hill still fearing he could come after me and assuming that he would, I remember my legs just felt like absolute jelly.”
But Diane managed to make it home.
“I remember just screaming again. My dad was having his breakfast and he heard me coming down the hill and he took me in. I couldn’t get any words out, there was just a lot of crying.”
The huge police manhunt for Kelly, in real-time online involving the help of the community, ended in his arrest before anyone else was hurt or even worse.
“He (Kelly) is just a really bad, bad man, and the thought of, what if he hadn’t been caught?
“A big part of it too is coming to terms with what’s happening because it doesn’t seem real and you are trying to snap out of it, but you don’t because that is the reality,’’ she admits.
“These are things that are in movies, that is not real life. A big part of it is trying to accept what is going on and you can’t.
“Those first few weeks after, I knew I had to force myself and get out and walk again. In a way that was a bit of control I had, there was a push in my mind, you can go out, I didn’t want him to win. But it wasn’t pleasant, those first few weeks were horrible.
“I’m very grateful I am here today so that is a positive. It is just always in the back of my mind. I am very alert to things around me, which is good in a way, at times it can be frustrating. Not trusting people if someone is walking too close. I don’t like that.”
Diane is fully aware the outcome could have been very different.
As well as the murder of Sarah Everard just two months before, that of fellow teacher Aisling Murphy in Co Offaly in January this year, also hit home.
But the teacher is determined not to let what happened to her, define her.
“It is really important to be aware that the threat is closer than what you like to think. It can happen where you least expect it,” she says.
“But don’t let it stop you from living your life. If I took the attitude I wasn’t safe anywhere, that lets people like that win.”