Throughout the mutual agony of their childhood at the hands of their adopted mother Eunice, Christopher Spry remembers his older sister Victoria as the one who tried to make the best of things.
‘She always tried to see the light in a bad situation,’ he recalls. ‘She would be the one chivvying me along, trying to make me giggle no matter how bad things got.’
It was Victoria’s way of trying to survive the daily catalogue of horrors they suffered at the hands of Eunice Spry, who had adopted Victoria as a toddler, then fostered Christopher and his sister Alloma, only to systematically inflict a litany of abuse that is almost too horrific to comprehend.
Over a period of nearly 20 years, she broke bones and routinely abused and starved them, as well as devising twisted punishments that included forcing them to drink bleach, eat their own excrement or, in Victoria’s case, rubbing her face with sandpaper.
Victoria Spry (above), who suffered years of abuse at the hands of her adopted mother Eunice Spry, was found dead in her ground-floor flat last month
Spry’s monstrous actions, when they came to light, appalled Britain and in 2007 she was jailed for 14 years for 26 separate offences, following a trial that the presiding judge called the worst he’d had to sit through in 40 years. She has never admitted her guilt or expressed any remorse.
Since then, Victoria, Alloma and Christopher have worked valiantly to rebuild their lives — or rather, build their lives, as they knew little of normality before.
Yet last month, it emerged that those heroic efforts had ended in tragedy for Victoria, who was found dead in the ground-floor flat she shared with her boyfriend.
She had apparently taken her own life at the age of just 35, finally unable to summon the light she had tried so hard to find.
It is a desperately poignant end for a woman who had tried to turn what she had endured into a force for good, working with social workers to help them spot children at risk of abuse.
Yet ultimately, she could not truly shake off the legacy of Eunice’s barbarism.
‘Being in Eunice’s care killed Victoria — I don’t think anyone could argue with that,’ Christopher, now 30, tells me. ‘Eunice was very good at stripping away any self-belief and confidence you might have in yourself.
‘I think most people think we were plucked out of that and all lived happily ever after but it doesn’t work like that. The damage is very real.’
That is a sentiment echoed by Alloma, now 32.
‘Victoria tried very hard to do what she could for the sake of other children. But I honestly don’t think she knew what a normal life was,’ she says.
‘She tried so hard to fight her way out of it but she succumbed. It is very sad.’
Even more so when you consider that today, 76-year-old Eunice Spry has, to all intents and purposes, been able to resume a normal life.
She was released from prison on parole in 2014 after serving just seven years of her sentence, and months later was spotted out shopping close to her bail hostel.
She is understood to be currently living under an assumed name in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.
Those she abused have not so easily shaken off their past. While Christopher — who has been married for three years and works in IT — has built an outwardly happy life, he suffers from post-traumatic stress and often sleeps for just three hours a night.
While for legal reasons he cannot go into detail, he still has regular hospital appointments as a consequence of injuries that were inflicted during his childhood.
Eunice Spry was jailed for 14 years for 26 separate offences in 2007, following a trial that the presiding judge called the worst he’d had to sit through in 40 years
‘There have been some incredibly bleak, difficult moments for all of us,’ he says. ‘As victims, we are very good at portraying images of what people want to see. I call it my ‘armour mode’. But those close to us know differently. It’s this confidence you project. It’s a ‘fake it until you make it’ approach that we all use at times.’
And of all of them, he believes, Victoria was dealt ‘a particularly difficult set of cards’.
She was in Spry’s ‘care’ the longest, delivered by social services to her home in Gloucester at the age of just 18 months, after her birth parents could no longer look after her.
By the time Christopher and Alloma joined the household, aged four and six, Victoria was nine. Already subjected to years of abuse, she had no bed and slept on the hallway floor under a filthy duvet.
Yet on paper, Spry, a registered foster carer, seemed the epitome of respectability.
Although she was twice divorced, she claimed to be a devout Jehovah’s Witness and had two children of her own.
To the world, she was a kindly Samaritan. Behind closed doors she was a psychopath who routinely beat, abused and starved her own two children, accusing them of harbouring evil.
‘What Eunice did was calculated,’ Christopher recalls. ‘You went into a room and the punishment had been set up.’
Many of the things that unfolded — some at Spry’s Gloucester home, some at a ramshackle farm in Eckington, Worcestershire, that she had inherited — are hard to believe and even harder to stomach.
They included routinely whipping the soles of the children’s feet, ramming sticks down their throats until they bled and making them drink their own urine.
None of the children attended school, instead teaching themselves to read and write.
‘We were so thirsty for information. If we ever got near any book we would hoover it up,’ says Christopher.
One of the most harrowing stretches of abuse came when Victoria was eight or nine. A single chicken nugget had gone missing from the fridge and, when no one owned up, Victoria was tied up, naked, in an attic bedroom, surviving on crusts and water.
It says much about what Victoria endured that when I interviewed her for the Mail in 2015 following the publication of her memoir, Tortured, this harrowing episode did not even particularly stand out in her mind.
‘It was all so bad, all of it,’ she recalled at the time.
Yet even amid these privations, Christopher recalls Victoria always doing her best to be kind.
‘Once Eunice had got one of those weights that go in sash windows and she had slapped me across the leg with it and cracked my femur,’ he recalls. ‘I was in horrific pain.
‘I remember lying on the floor and Alloma and Victoria trying to carry me away. Victoria said I looked like a penguin and made me giggle. That was typical of her.’
Over a period of nearly 20 years, Spry broke bones and routinely abused and starved them or, in Victoria’s case, rubbed her face with sandpaper
Victoria’s physical challenges were to worsen as a teenager; in 2000 she was involved in a car crash after a rare family trip to Pontins with Spry’s biological daughter Judith, 37, and fellow adopted daughter Charlotte, 16, who had largely escaped Spry’s abuse.
While Victoria, Alloma and Christopher were kept indoors, it was a rare break from the beatings.
But on the way home, a distracted lorry driver smashed into the back of the car driven by Judith, forcing it under the wheels of another lorry.
Judith and Charlotte were killed instantly and Victoria was left with a broken neck and pelvis, fractured bones in her arms and legs and severe internal injuries.
Placed in a medical coma for several weeks at Bristol’s Frenchay Hospital, she was then told by doctors that she would need to be in a wheelchair for several months to build up her strength.
Instead, Eunice forced her to stay in a wheelchair for the next three years, so she could claim disability allowance and get compensation.
‘She refused to help Victoria get better and get physiotherapy that would help her walk,’ Christopher recalls. ‘She would carefully choose which doctors to visit to keep that illusion up.’
Victoria suffered such terrible muscle wastage that she was left unable to walk — but even that was not enough for Eunice, who continued to kick and beat her.
Who knows how long the children’s misery might have endured, had it not been for an unexpected escape route.
When Victoria was 18, a younger brother — another foster child, favoured by Spry — began attending Jehovah’s Witness meetings and Victoria was asked to accompany him in her wheelchair.
Over the ensuing months, people started to ask questions and finally, in December 2004, one young couple offered to smuggle her out.
Victoria agreed and, three weeks later, finally plucked up the courage to go to the police.
Spry was subsequently arrested — news that Christopher, then 15, learned from Spry’s parents, with whom he had been sent to live as their ‘carer’.
Today, he recalls his bewilderment and mixed emotions on learning that the woman he still knew as his mum was being questioned by police.
‘At first I said what the police said wasn’t true — because Eunice had brainwashed us,’ he recalls. ‘But then I remember being taken to see Victoria in hospital, where she was being examined by doctors. She got out of bed and walked towards me and I remember breaking down in tears.
‘There was this joy that she was walking for the first time in years, followed by this feeling of pure fear that everything had changed. I had a huge panic attack.’
Slowly, all the siblings tried to rebuild their lives. In the early years, Victoria had intensive physiotherapy, went to college and worked as a nursery nurse
Such was the hold Spry had on her children that it took he and Alloma months to agree to testify against her at her trial in April 2007.
When he did, from behind a screen, he recalls briefly locking eyes with his ‘mother’ as he stepped down from giving evidence.
‘There was nothing there,’ he says. ‘I could have been a piece of lint on her shirt.’
After a trial lasting five and a half weeks, Spry — who continued to deny all the claims made against her — was convicted on 26 counts of child abuse and imprisoned for 14 years, which was subsequently reduced to 12 years on appeal.
Slowly, all the siblings tried to rebuild their lives. In the early years, Victoria had intensive physiotherapy, went to college and worked as a nursery nurse.
‘I always thought Victoria was chasing the childhood she never had,’ says Christopher now. ‘She bought all the cuddly toys she didn’t have as a girl and went to Disneyland.’ At 22, she met her long-term boyfriend, Anthony.
The siblings kept in close contact for a time, although this lessened as the years wore on.
‘After a while, when you talk to each other you just remind each other of the abuse and it’s very painful,’ says Christopher.
Eunice’s release in July 2014 was a difficult time for all of them, especially Victoria, who harboured worries that Eunice would track her down.
‘There was anxiety for all of us,’ says Christopher, who spent several years working in child services. ‘You think ‘is she going to roll up on my doorstep? Will she contact my family?’ ‘
Their sporadic contact ceased altogether following a family dispute — although Christopher says that because of his social work contacts he was still able to ‘keep an eye’ on Victoria — and he recalls watching proudly from the audience in 2016 when she took part in a panel discussion helping to teach social workers to spot signs of abuse early.
‘She would have had no idea I was there, as we were not in day-to-day contact. But to see her up there made me so incredibly proud, it was so moving,’ he says. ‘I know she got a lot of peace through her work.’
And when the pair bumped into each other in Cheltenham town centre, relations were cordial.
‘We had a hug and chatted for a while, and after that we swapped the occasional text again,’ says Christopher.
On the surface, at least, Victoria did seem to have achieved some of the normal life she yearned for.
For the past couple of years she had shared a flat with Anthony on the outskirts of Cheltenham and to neighbours she was a familiar sight, walking the couple’s beloved labradors on the playing fields near by.
Then, in January, her siblings learned that Victoria had been sectioned and taken to a mental health facility in Gloucester, from where in March she uploaded a post on social media saying that she was ‘struggling’.
‘Struggling like mad but just about coping,’ she wrote. ‘I’m so sorry I’ve let you down and not always replied back to posts. I think the world of so many of you.’
Spry was released in July 2014, which was a difficult time for all of the siblings, especially Victoria, who harboured worries that Eunice would track her down
She also reached out to Alloma, now a mother of three, who had not been in contact with Victoria for several years.
‘We spoke for a few nights,’ Alloma recalled earlier this month. ‘She said the facility wasn’t bad. We spoke about some things from the past, she said she was sorry we had fallen out, but most of it was general stuff about my children and what life was like in the mental health unit.’
In what would prove to be her final call to Victoria, shortly before she was discharged, Alloma suggested she should come over and spend a day with her.
‘She seemed very positive that she was going to come round,’ she recalls.
Little did she know that, barring a brief text exchange, it would be the last she would hear from her sister.
Two weeks after Victoria was discharged and returned home, Anthony found her body on the morning of September 22.
Devastated, he declined to talk to journalists. A file has been passed to the coroner.
Christopher received the tragic news from the police, when they called asking if they could come to see him in person. ‘I knew something bad had happened but I’d hoped it wasn’t this,’ he says.
Today the shock still lingers for Alloma and Christopher. Most of all, though, there is profound sadness that Victoria could not conquer her demons.
As Christopher puts it: ‘In the end, she simply couldn’t escape her past.’
- For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.