PROUD mum Pamela Bowmaker remembers how her daughter loved singing Spice Girls songs on her karaoke set. She once adored her Barbies, lived to play practical jokes and dreamt of becoming a children’s nurse.
But her final memory is a haunting one. On a night in September 2008, Vikki McGovern made a desperate call to NHS 24, screaming that she was going to kill herself. She repeated the words over and over again until a fire alarm went off in the NHS building. The worker on the other end of the line gave Vikki a telephone number and said she could phone again in ten minutes, before ending the call.
Vikki, 19, never rang back.
The next morning she was found dead in her hostel bedroom. She had taken a fatal dose of methadone. That dose had been given to her by a criminal who knew she wanted to kill herself.
“They played that tape in court three times,” says Pamela. “Vikki kept saying the call better not be traced or she’d run away and hide. She said she wanted to kill herself over and over. I think she was hinting at them to find her, it was a cry for help. Then the fire alarm went off and she was told to call back.
“That’s the last time anyone spoke to her.
“To hear that recording over and over again,” she says, before trailing off.
“It was unlucky what happened, but I think the NHS could have called back. I felt they had enough time to trace the call. Vikki phoned from the hostel’s office phone – from a place for people struggling with mental health. Vikki never got what she needed.”
Heartbroken Pamela visited her daughter’s grave last Wednesday to lay flowers – and let her know the “nasty piece of work” who gave her methadone during her desperate hours had finally been caged.
In Dundee High Court last Tuesday, with Pamela watching, James Whitson was convicted of culpable homicide after giving Vikki the lethal dose of the class A heroin substitute just days before her death in September 2008.
“In court, that lad smirked at us, although his smirk started to drop as the trial went on. It’s the second time he’s gone to court over this. He got off on appeal [in 2009]. When he was sentenced back then he got ten years. I hope he gets longer this time,” she says.
For Pamela, his imprisonment offers some comfort. She says his conviction will give her an opportunity to grieve.
A picture of Vikki as a baby takes centre stage on the living room wall in her Piersfield Place home, surrounded by pictures of her four happy, healthy siblings: Douglas, 19, Dionne, 16, Robert, 14, and Dale, 11.
Vikki, she says, was a girl who had “snapped” after the death of a close family friend – a grandfather figure – when she was 16.
“When she was growing up she was a typical wee girl. She grew up around a big family and she was a lovely girl. Her siblings adored her, they wouldn’t leave her alone.
“But when she was 16 our neighbour died. Vikki had been so close to him, she would tell him everything and she would visit every single day.
“The day he passed away, something snapped in her. She didn’t really react to the death, she just went into herself. She refused to go to the funeral, which I thought was strange.
“She said she wanted to remember him how he was before he died.”
Soon after his death, Vikki started self-harming. The increasingly nervous teen would wear long tops, which she’d pull over her knuckles to hide cuts to her wrists and hands. Vikki’s brother, Douglas, was the first to guess what was going on when he noticed bits of paper covered in blood scattered around his sister’s room.
“After that I’d regularly ask Vikki if I could see her arms,” Pamela says sadly. “But she got good at hiding the marks. She’d cut her legs instead.”
Frustratingly for Pamela, Vikki would try to hide as much as possible from her mother. “When she turned 16, that was it,” she says. “Vikki wanted to be independent and everything was confidential, the doctors would tell me nothing. When we heard in court that she’d tried to kill herself 13 times, I had no idea.
“Vikki was so quiet. She didn’t drink, she didn’t smoke, she didn’t do drugs. It was so hard to get her to accept help. I told her ,‘Shout, Vikki, shout when you get angry’, but she whispered back that she couldn’t.”
Soon afterwards, Vikki moved out of her home to a supported flat in the Meadows. Next, she moved to Cranston Hostel, then to St John’s Hill Hostel, where Pamela says “the problems really started”.
“One night when she was staying in Cranston, Vikki phoned me from the ERI. She’d been cutting herself too much. She told me she had to leave Cranston for her own safety.”
In a rare moment, Vikki confided in her mother that doctors had diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder.
“It made sense when she said it,” says Pamela. “Vikki could switch from telling everyone she wanted to die and was going to kill herself, then a minute later would be talking about her favourite music and what to get her brother for his birthday. I read that people feel very alone even when they’re not, and that makes me so sad.
“My concerns for Vikki got worse when she went to St John’s. Vikki was isolated there and it was full of people addicted to drugs and alcohol. I don’t believe it was the right place for her.”
Pamela also believes that a lot of the fellow residents used to bully her daughter, marching her to the bank so she could withdraw cash they would then spend and taking items of clothing. On the day Vikki died, the tearful mother claims that Vikki’s bag containing her mobile and belongings – things she would “never be without” – was stolen from her room.
“We’ve still never found it to this day,” she reveals. “My last visit to the hostel, about four days before Vikki was found, I remember my exact words to her support worker were: ‘I don’t feel my daughter is safe living here’.”
It was on September 20 that Pamela got the final knock on the door. “CID were standing there and straight away I knew. I remember I wouldn’t sit down because I didn’t want them to tell me Vikki had passed away.
“We later found out in court that the nasty piece of work at the hostel had been wanting to sell methadone. He’d asked Vikki if she wanted to buy it. I don’t know if he gave it to Vikki or she was too scared to say no, so she bought it. She kept saying she wanted to kill herself. Other people were laughing at her, saying she couldn’t even do that properly.”
Her bullies were referring to a previous attempt to kill herself with methadone the month before. In August she ended up in the ERI, where she sent her mother a text message saying she was sorry and that she wouldn’t do it again.
Tragically, Vikki did do it again. But Pamela doesn’t believe her daughter meant to do it. She is furious that methadone got anywhere near her tormented child’s hands.
“Vikki had been having a hard time before she died, but one of the support workers, Shirley, told Vikki on the Friday night that they were going to have a girly day the next day. Shirley found her dead at 9.30am.”
Vikki was buried on October 7 in Piershall Cemetery, just around the corner from where her heartbroken mother lives.
“The main thing is, I don’t feel like I’ve ever had a proper chance to grieve for Vikki. I just hope that now he’ll accept his sentence and let us move on as a family,” she says quietly.