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Sarah: six years on

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Sitting in Kate and Vic Groves’s conservatory on a spring morning seems like a world away from Kashmir, where their daughter was brutally killed six years ago. Amanda Eulenkamp found out how the couple have coped in the years since they were woken by a telephone call from India bringing them the worst possible news...

IT’S hard to believe that six years have passed since that fatal day when the young life of 24-year-old Sarah Groves was prematurely taken. A beautiful young woman who touched the heart of everyone she met, she was doing what many young people do – travelling the world, enjoying new places and experiences.

She’d ended up in Kashmir – her next stop was due to be on a trip to Nepal, trekking to the Everest base camp to coincide with the anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s first ascent of the mountain in 1953.

Her mother, Kate, had booked the trip, and Sarah’s bags were packed, when she decided to change the date of travel pushing it back, to later in April.

‘She was thrilled to bits. Wild horses wouldn’t have stopped her, but tragedy did,’ says Kate.

Kate holds a tissue in her hand throughout our interview, and although there are laughs and smiles as we reminisce about one thing or the other, the tears are often close to the surface. This remarkable lady and her equally remarkable husband, Vic, have not only had to endure what no parent should – the death of their child before them – but also the painfully slow, frequently delayed trial of Dutchman Richard de Wit, the man accused of Sarah’s murder.

The couple have recently written a letter – published in this paper on Thursday – to the most senior judge in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. In it, they state that the ‘wholly unacceptable’ way in which the trial has been conducted makes the tragedy all the more difficult to bear and understand for family and friends.

‘We’ve written a dozen plus letters over the years,’ says Vic, ‘but we’ve never had a reply. Hopefully, this time will be different.’

The trial is described as ‘a farce’ by the couple and there’s an air of utter exhaustion and desperation as they talk about the last six years.

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‘We had some very good long-standing relationships with certain people, such as the chap from the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] who’d been with us since day one – but he’s moved on,’ says Vic. ‘Then the one and only contact we had in Holland, who went way over and beyond the call of duty – he even came here to see us – has packed up his legal practice and taken on a role as a senior appeal court judge. So he is not directly involved now and was obliged to sever the contact.’

‘There’s no continuity – we’ve had different prosecution lawyers, different defence lawyers, different judges, and different people in the FCO and now nobody in Holland,’ says Kate tiredly.

With a host of witnesses still to face questioning, many of whom can’t be traced now, the couple believe there’s little or no chance of significant progress being made in the foreseeable future.

How they cope on a daily basis is anyone’s guess, but while they may not agree on everything, they support each other, even finishing each other’s sentences.

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They’ve also created the Sarah Groves Foundation, formed towards the end of 2013 as a not-for-profit, registered charitable trust, with the aim of fulfilling Sarah’s own ambition in life – to enhance the lives of young people, especially those less fortunate than herself. Working to achieve this goal is something that has kept the couple busy, as well as being a tribute to their beloved daughter.

But the years have taken a toll on them. Vic admits that they’re only just recovering from the fundraising of last year, when the most recent biennial Tour de Sez – a cycling fundraiser – took place.

‘It consumed my life,’ he says, ‘it really took it out of us.’

The ‘what ifs’ and regrets are inevitably not far away from their thoughts, and our conversation veers back to when Sarah first went travelling.

Sarah Groves.

‘She kept a diary,’ Vic tells me, ‘and some of the things she wrote are so relevant: “I do not know what the next months will hold, what good will lie ahead.”

‘She wrote all this from the heart, on the way to the airport. The last line was: “I can’t change my mind now, and I’ve got to do it.”’

Kate mentions that in the last few days she has read an article in the New York Times about travelling alone.

‘After what happened, I wrote guideline notes about young people travelling alone,’ says Vic. ‘Don’t go on your own. Always make sure somebody knows where you are. Don’t change your plans. And if possible, don’t let your heart rule your head. Because that’s what happens in so many cases. They meet someone and it shouldn’t be a permanent relationship. They’re going into a completely different culture and they don’t know what’s coming out the other side. My own recommendation to anyone is don’t travel on your own. I don’t think it’s a sensible thing.’

However, they freely admit that Sarah had a sense of adventure and, having had her heart broken, was determined to travel. They know she would still want people to get out there and experience life and love and to smile and spread happiness like she did.

But nobody would wish what happened to Sarah and her family and friends on anyone.

‘She wrote, “fly away, fall in love, never return”,’ Kate says, and it’s achingly poignant that for one young woman on the brink of life, her own words turned out to be prophetic.

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