When convicted sexual predator Leroy Campbell was released from prison he warned probation officers he wanted to reoffend. Four months later Lisa Skidmore was dead. Now her family want answers. Julie Bindel reports.
The funeral of Lisa Skidmore was unlike any other witnessed in the quiet market town of Bilston in the West Midlands. As the 100-strong crowd left the church at the end of the service, dozens of balloons with pictures of Disney characters on them were released into the air. Nurses and medics wearing their uniforms lined the footpath, clapping and offering comfort to Lisa’s devastated family as they made their way to the cemetery.
Funerals can be cathartic and comforting for loved ones, but not this one. Lisa, a much loved district nurse, was 37 years old when she was raped and murdered in her home by a man who had recently been released from prison and had a long list of convictions.
On 24 November 2016, Leroy Campbell, then 55, a dangerous sexual predator, used a ladder to climb through a window into Lisa’s first-floor bedroom, where she was resting while sick and off work. He had staked out the house three days earlier and, discovering that it was occupied by a woman living alone, knew he’d found his next victim. He attacked Lisa over a two-hour period before strangling her to death.
Shortly afterwards, Lisa’s 80-year-old mother Margaret, a retired cleaner, decided to pop round to see how her daughter was feeling. She was about to go shopping and let herself into Lisa’s house, which was near her own. But Campbell was hiding behind the kitchen door. ‘He punched me in the face then strangled me by wrapping a cord round my neck,’ says Margaret, barely able to get the words out. ‘I thought I was going to die. I blacked out.’
When Margaret regained consciousness Campbell had fled, leaving her for dead on the living room floor. He had set fire to the bedroom in which Lisa’s body lay and turned on the gas cooker in the hope that all DNA evidence would be destroyed. However, a neighbour saw the flames, rescued Margaret and called the fire brigade. Campbell was arrested three days later. At his trial in May 2017, he pleaded guilty to murder, rape, attempted murder and arson with intent to endanger life. Cruelly, Campbell has refused to give an account of what happened that morning, but Lisa’s family take some comfort in knowing that the judge ordered that he never be released from prison.
Margaret and her four other children – Joyce, Jim, Alison and Irene – remain tightly knit in the wake of their grief. Margaret’s husband died 13 years ago.
‘We have always been close,’ says Alison, a quietly spoken Brownies leader and retired nurse. ‘Three months before Lisa died we had an 80th birthday party for Mum – everyone was there. Lisa was Mum’s carer; she used to work four days a week and on the other three she would take Mum out. Since Lisa died Mum won’t go anywhere.’
I meet the family at Alison’s home in Wolverhampton. She was appointed the family’s spokesperson on the day of Lisa’s murder and Margaret’s attack and says, ‘It wasn’t a role I wanted, but someone had to do it, to speak up for Mum and for poor Lisa.’ When I arrive I am politely asked if I would mind removing my shoes and I’m led through to a room containing a polished wooden dining table.
Margaret’s face is etched with pain during our interview and while Alison tries to keep her emotions in check, her eyes tell the true story. Margaret wrings her hands and the tears fall freely as she speaks, ‘Joyce and I were the last people to see her alive the day before she was murdered. We said, “We’ll see you tomorrow,” and that was it. We couldn’t have imagined in our worst nightmares what would happen next.’
Lisa, the youngest of the family, was a hard-working woman, liked and respected by everyone who knew her. Happily single, she enjoyed watching The X-Files and reading science fiction and crime novels. She collected Disney memorabilia and loved visiting antique fairs on a constant hunt for rare items. ‘The last thing she bought was in Wales, on a day trip with Mum and Joyce,’ says Alison. ‘A full-size Mickey Mouse – they had to put him in the back of the car with a seat belt on to get him home.’ The statue now has pride of place in Alison’s garden.
‘One of Lisa’s dreams was to have a nursing home to look after old people properly,’ says Alison. ‘Her patients loved her. She would work an hour after the end of her shifts. When she died, we were deluged with letters thanking Lisa for everything she had done for the community.’
‘Lisa was an angel. She was kind, considerate and would always go the extra mile. No one had a bad word to say about her,’ adds Margaret.
Recalling that terrible day, Alison says, ‘Joyce phoned me and said Mum had been attacked at Lisa’s house. I had no idea that Lisa had been murdered.’
Alison and her husband Bob quickly made their way to Lisa’s home and found the street cordoned off with police tape and emergency service vehicles filling the road. ‘There were two fire engines and 13 firefighters, two ambulances, four police cars and a first response car,’ says Alison.
‘Mum was being attended to by paramedics. She had an oxygen mask on and said, “Lisa has gone.” Her voice was trembling. I saw the ambulance door open and could see Lisa’s leg. There was a police officer by us and Joyce and I asked him about Lisa but he didn’t answer. It was then I knew that she had died.
‘I couldn’t take it in. Finding out about Lisa while getting my head around the fact that Mum had nearly died was hell.’
Alison and a police officer accompanied Margaret in the ambulance to New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton – where Lisa’s job was based. There, nurses examined Margaret who had a fractured cheekbone and severe bruising on her neck and face. ‘They asked me if I would help Mum get into a gown and bag up all her clothes as the police needed them for forensic evidence. More police arrived and one was stationed outside the room. Two female officers were asking us questions and the forensic officer was taking photos of Mum. It was surreal,’ Alison says.
Doctors asked Margaret to stay in hospital for the night but she insisted on returning home with her children. ‘None of us could comprehend what had happened,’ says Alison. ‘We were all empty. The look on Mum’s face haunts me to this day. The light had gone out of
her eyes – and her life. She didn’t go to bed for two nights and didn’t leave the house, apart from when we had to go to the police station, for six weeks.’
Margaret still lives in her home of 56 years, a terraced house in Bilston, with her children nearby. But it’s no longer her safe haven. After the attack she has had counselling and a psychiatrist diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder as well as severe depression, anxiety and stress.
‘Mum is too frightened to open a door since it happened,’ says Alison. ‘She can’t sleep unless all the windows are closed and locked, even in the height of summer.’
The family is left with the agonising question: how did their beloved daughter and sister, a kind and caring nurse loved by her community, meet such an awful death when the probation service was well aware that Campbell was a serious danger to women? He had six previous convictions for 11 offences including rape, burglary and attempting to strangle a woman.
He had been released from prison only four months before he raped and killed Lisa, after serving 17 years for an attack on another woman. At his hostel (an official residence for ex-offenders requiring monitoring), he asked for advice about whether visiting prostitutes would be a breach of his licence conditions. Alison says, ‘Only six weeks before murdering Lisa, Campbell told his probation officer that he felt like “doing it again”, and that he had taken to looking at open windows when he was walking around. It beggars belief that this was not reported to police.’
After last year’s independent review into the probation service’s role in Lisa’s murder, a supervisor was sacked for gross misconduct and a probation officer was demoted. The former justice minister Rory Stewart met the Skidmore family twice to personally apologise for failings. But the family is still haunted by the idea that if the correct steps had been taken, Lisa might be alive today. They want to know why a dangerous man wasn’t recalled to prison when he admitted feeling urges to carry out another attack.
Alison says, ‘Somebody is responsible for the loss of my sister and the near loss of our mum. When somebody is taken and it is preventable, it adds more to the loss.’ Margaret adds, ‘I’ve been a mother for 62 years and this is the worst thing that could possibly happen.
‘The main thing we want to achieve as a family is to ensure that what happened to Lisa
never happens to anyone else. We have one aim in mind: justice for Lisa. That means having a thorough inquest that looks at all the failures of the probation service and management of high-risk prisoners.’
The inquest – where members of the probation service will give evidence – will start on 10 June and the Skidmores hope that it will provide the answers they need. Meanwhile, the National Probation Service (NPS) is already undergoing change. Justice Secretary David Gauke recently announced the NPS is being re-nationalised to reverse the costly part-privatisation brought in by Chris Grayling in 2014, which has seen reoffending surge.
The NPS has acted on recommendations made in case reviews to improve how
it works with the police and has put in place measures to help prevent this happening again, a Ministry of Justice spokesman told YOU. ‘We await the findings of the inquest and will take further action where necessary,’ he said. ‘This was an appalling crime. We have apologised to the family for failings in this tragic case. Our thoughts remain with them.’
‘If Lisa was here she would cringe at the publicity – she wouldn’t like it, she was very private. But she would understand. She’s not just a statistic, we loved her,’ says Margaret.
The family want Lisa to have a happier legacy, too, pledging to raise £10,000 to send children who are the victims of crime to Disneyland Paris, so that they and their families can enjoy the magic that Lisa loved.
Lisa visited the resort four times. ‘She was 18 or 19 when she first went and she was like a big kid,’ recalls Alison. ‘Lisa would have loved to have had children and she would definitely have taken them to Disneyland – it would have been her dream. We want children who have been affected by crime to enjoy themselves. They deserve it.’
Just before I leave, Alison shows me the attic. It is full of Lisa’s things, mainly Disney memorabilia but also some of her other personal effects. ‘I hate coming in here,’ she tells me, barely containing her tears.
Campbell was given a whole life sentence, so will never be released. But it is too late for Lisa and her family ‘I said to the probation service, “Don’t give me a monthly update or anything on Campbell,”’ Alison tells me, picking up one of Lisa’s Disney toys, ‘“Just tell me when he’s dead.”’