Mother gets through daughters murder by helping others

Portraits of Jayne Crothall's children hang side-by-side.

Jayne Crothall Source: Fairfax

"They're my three babies," she says, pointing to a wall in her South New Brighton home.

Bradley, 14, is a quiet secondary school student who loves playing video games and Liam, 11, is a lively primary school pupil who enjoys the outdoors.

Brittany, 3, never made it to school. On Waitangi Day 1997, the toddler was murdered as she slept at her Christchurch home. She would have turned 21 in August this year.

"Birthdays are really difficult," Crothall says. "We'll probably have a wee party."

For many years she was haunted by the events that unfolded that morning. But recently she's found strength supporting others with similar stories.

Her volunteer work with victims has been described as inspirational.

Crothall remembers waking up with blood streaming down her face and Luke Sibley standing over her, holding a hammer and a knife.

Sibley, a boarder at Crothall's home, had been evicted after he acted inappropriately towards Brittany a day earlier.

About 3.50am he had entered the house through the toddler's bedroom window.

Crothall fought off his attack before a neighbour who had heard her screams arrived and Sibley fled.

"I was lying in the ambulance praying the whole time 'please God let Brittany be alive'."

At hospital Crothall was told her daughter was dead. She'd been suffocated and strangled.

Sibley handed himself into police.

The court process was harrowing, but thankfully the case never went to trial, she says.

Sibley pleaded guilty to murder and attempted murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 13 years.

Crothall battled depression and anxiety as she struggled to deal with her loss. "I always felt like something was missing in my life - like a part of me had died.

"She was the most amazing thing in the world."

The thought of Sibley walking free from prison was terrifying.

Crothall had nightmares as she battled to make the Parole Board aware of documents which showed Sibley was a paedophile who needed further treatment before he could be released.

It was then that she realised she wanted to help other victims of serious crime.

"I felt that people would appreciate having someone who had been through it as well."

Crothall worked for Victim Support for a year, but quit because she was unable to help as much as she wanted. She had to keep her last name a secret and couldn't tell people her phone number or email address. She says she was also encouraged not to show emotion.

Now she volunteers for the Sensible Sentencing and Red Raincoat trusts, attending court cases and parole hearings in Canterbury.

"I feel like I've got stronger over the last couple of years - I feel more accepting. I think that [supporting others] has made a huge difference," Crothall says. "I love it because I know I'm making a difference in people's lives."