March 22, 2009
“I can’t face that. I can’t. I can’t even think about that.”
As she gets out of the car, I softly shake her hand. I thank her for the interview and tell her I’m going to say a little prayer for her daughter. She smiles, sadly, nods her head and walks away.
I sit back into the car. My colleague Gary Ashe is doing the driving. After a few seconds, he glances over at me and says: “She’s way past the crying stage, isn’t she?” “Yeah,” I reply quietly. We drive on, heading to our hotel, job done. Audrey Fitzpatrick walks into the bar and back to her search for her little girl. Back to her living nightmare.
Gary was right. Audrey was indeed way past the crying stage. It’s more than a year since her daughter Amy Fitzpatrick disappeared as she walked home from a friend’s house in Calahonda, near Fuengirola on Spain’s Costa Del Sol. In the 14 months since her disappearance, Audrey has campaigned tirelessly – desperately - for Amy; for her not to be forgotten. But there has been nothing in return. No sightings; no phone calls; no emails; no sign of life.
But still she goes on with her campaign. Always fighting. Always available. She agreed to meet me and Gary with only half an hour’s notice. We were in Spain last week on another matter – the unsuccessful appeal of Dermot McArdle – around 200 kilometres from Calahonda in the city of Granada, at this court. But we were flying out of Malaga, which was only 30 odd minutes from Audrey, so I gave her a call to see if she would facilitate us with a quick interview. You can never tell when you make such a call: some people won’t be interested, others will be happy to talk.
As soon as I introduced myself over the phone, I knew Audrey would talk to us. She readily agreed to meet us half an hour later in Tricky Ricky’s pub, a de facto HQ forn the Amy campaign. When we got there, she was standing at the bar with a friend. She gave us a big smile and told us she was delighted we had called – anything, she said, to keep Amy’s name in the papers.
But she admitted it’s getting increasingly more difficult to keep the campaign going. Neither she nor her partner, Dave Mahon, have been able to work since Amy disappeared, but they have spent a fortune. “How much?” I ask. “Oh, easily over €200,000,” she replies. She tells me that Dave was able to check his mobile phone and see that he alone has spent €10,000 on credit for it since January 2008.
They had a decent amount of savings, but now they are in serious trouble. Dave is trying to get back into work, but his field – property – is even more badly hit in Spain than in Ireland. They have not paid their €2,000 a month mortgage since Amy vanished – and now the bank have warned them they are in real danger of losing their house.
That would be, she says, devastating on two counts: firstly, no one wants to lose their home. But, probably more importantly, it’s Amy’s home. “I am really desperate to keep the house because Amy could walk back in at any second,” Audrey insisted.
She was telling us this as Gary drive us back to the pub. Minutes earlier, we had taken Audrey to the spot where Amy was last seen, moments after leaving her friend’s house in New Year’s Night. It was obviously distressing for her, but she managed to pose with a poster of Amy for us.
But you can only imagine what was going through her head as she stood at the spot where her young daughter was walking when somebody took her, for that's what probably happened. The likelihood of Amy running away and not being in contact with friends or family is too unrealistic to even contemplate. And as I looked at her graciously posing for Gary, a single thought kept bouncing around my head: how could any parent deal with things Audrey is having to deal with?
How can she function on a day to day basis not knowing where her girl is? She must just be on auto pilot. The agony must be unbearable. Every waking minute, second,is taken up with looking for Amy.
Which is worse, I wondered: the thought that something horrible has happened to Amy –or the fear that something horrible is still happening to her. Both must be unbearable.I asked Audrey, somewhat nervously, if she had accepted the possibility that Amy could be dead. “No,” she said, quickly. “I can’t face that.
I can’t. I can’t even think about that.”
Instead, she is convinced that someone, perhaps someone who knew her, has taken her. She is hoping against hope that the person still has her and will let her free one day.
Maybe events more than 1500 kilometres north east will prove her right: maybe you never should give up hope.
It was nothing more than a coincidence, but while we were talking to Audrey, Josef Fritzl was in the dock in the Austrian town of St. Poelten. It was the Tuesday of Fritzl’s trial when we met Audrey. On that day, Elizabeth Fritzl’s video evidence was played to the jury, so some of the shocking details had emerged by the time Audrey spoke to us.
For me the parallels were stomach churning. As we drove away from meeting her, and after Gary’s comments, all I could think about was this: just say some fucker has Amy in a dungeon somewhere? Just say that poor, defenceless, girl is going through the same hell that Elizabeth suffered? A shiver went down my spine at even the thought of it.
And, as we drive away under the Spanish sun, I say a silent prayer for Amy.