'The darkest hour is before the dawn'

In the second extract from their collection of letters, 'Love on the Wing', Sara Thornton and George Delf share their hopes for her release from prison and find their love affair faltering
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Sara Thornton, sentenced to life imprisonment in 1990 for killing her husband, Malcolm, walked free last week after a jury found her guilty of manslaughter rather than murder.

During her first year in prison, she corresponded with - and fell in love with - George Delf, a journalist and author who championed her cause. In this second extract from Love on the Wing, a collection of their letters, Sara Thornton writes of her hopes for her first appeal, presented by Lord Gifford QC and rejected in July 1991, and of her transfer from Durham Prison to Bullwood Hall in Essex, which led to the collapse of her relationship with George.

February 1991

My Beloved,

Two letters from you today, manna from heaven. Civilised overseer said: "You've got two from George, Sara, I know he likes his bike, but recycled envelopes?"

Great, you've accepted the appeal postponement so gracefully, darling. I thought you might have congratulated me on acquiring Lord Gifford. Perhaps you don't want to admit the strength of my gut feelings? I'm stirring - I love you.

A funny-ha-ha day today. I'm sewing a satin nightdress case for Ella, and inside she wanted "Failte" embroidered. It means "Welcome" in Gaelic. Mrs H asked me what it meant this afternoon. I replied: "The bomb is in the left-luggage locker!" Naughty of me really but we all broke up. Set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Mrs H said that in my report for the wing review - she said: "Sara is very entertaining!"

ML, one of the girls who lost her appeal last year, was handed a 12-year tariff date. We were all stunned. I passed her last week, she was sitting alone at the table downstairs, one look at her face and I started crying, so she did, too. She has two young children and I could feel her pain and despair. There has been a special investigation ordered by the judge at her trial into the police's behaviour during her interrogation, yet she still lost her appeal. I begged her to fight, but she refused. I guess she thought she'd get a low tariff.

Anyway, she sidled up to me tonight, and asked rather shyly, "Sara, can I write to the Home Secretary?"

"ML, darling, you can write to whoever you want," I replied. "I've probably got the address.

"I'm going to fight, Sara!" she said.

Funny thing is, the minute she decided, "That's it, they are not doing this to me!", she felt great. She's lost that drawn, haunted look and is ready to go. Hallelujah! I shall help her as much as I can ...

Be careful on your bike.

I love you,

Sara x

Darling,

I looked up some stuff on appeals. The Appeal Court can order a new trial. However, this power can only be used in cases where there is fresh or credible evidence and the court considers that it is in the interests of justice to receive it even tho' it was available and admissible at the trial. Surely evidence on living with an alcoholic comes into this category, doesn't it?

I love you,

George xxx

March 1991

Darling,

Your Sunday letter came this evening. When I opened it Tracey looked over my shoulder and said, 'That's not a letter, that's a fucking exam paper!'

Your comments on the Dark Ages. You're right - it seems particularly bad now. Yet I feel one cannot achieve spiritual awareness without first feeling totally helpless. It's certainly how it happened with me.

Your anger and stubborn refusal (like mine) to play the defeated genius causes others to be terribly uncomfortable. It happens with me in here all the time. I think we'll find that we'll intuitively attract those who are spiritually free.

You had an example of the "new awareness" when you went to London. "Demigod" they called you! You didn't threaten them because (a) you are of a different generation and (b) they are achievers in their own right - independent young people who are doing what they want to do because they enjoy it. The prison service is full of people who are doing their jobs either for money, ego satisfaction, or simply because no one else will employ them. I don't feel that anyone who is enlightened could work within the penal service.

As far as justice is concerned, we've reached an all-time low. The Birmingham Six case is opening eyes everywhere. I heard today that the police who handled the original investigation have not answered a single question satisfactorily. So, in one fell swoop, the Home Office (forensic scientists), judiciary and the police have been laid bare and bleeding to the public. Add Strangeways riot and the Woolf report - netted the lot in one go!

The darkest hour is truly before the dawn! Aids is probably the worst affliction we could have, drug and alcohol addiction are epidemic - yes, we are a very rich world. But coming up behind us are new people, a generation that are not willing to accept our mistakes, souls who are being reborn, maybe right now, who will start to heal our world. Have faith, darling, in you, in us, in the children, and most of all in the creative power of the Universe.

I guess we can help heal or start the healing. I don't really know.

Tonight I said to S (apropos of one of my ongoing battles), "What am I going to be like if I'm freed on appeal? Who am I going to fight?" "You'll be fighting for us, Sara," she replied, with the utmost quiet conviction. What started as a joke with me, finished as a deep, almost frightening statement of faith. I hope I don't let them down.

I love you.

Sara xx

Darling,

Hicks called me to his office and told me that I would be going to Bullwood Hall (Essex) on Thursday 28 March. I immediately asked for an extra VO [Visitor's Order] so that I could see you and hand out some papers. He granted this, so darling that's the long and short of it.

I've cried. But I feel it's a very important step for me to take, part of my learning programme. I haven't heard a good word about Bullwood.

L says lesbianism is rife ... Of course things could have changed a lot ...

What, my darling man, are you going to do? My first thought, one that also occurred to others. "But what about George?" greeted my news. "He's not transferable," I replied. "He'll move to Essex." Will you? Whatever you decide, darling, is fine with me. I'll love you anyway!

Remember, I adore you - this is the second stage!

Sara xxx

Afterword by Sara Thornton

My departure for Bullwood Hall Prison in Essex forced a change in my relationship with George that neither of us could have foreseen.

Without the weekly visits and daily letters, I found myself making decisions and validating my newly acquired sense of inner authority. I still needed George's love and approval and he continued to be a source of inspiration and devotion. But the loss of my appeal in 1991 and the ensuing hunger strike proved to be our swansong.

George and I parted amid much pain and confusion. It took three years to understand and heal, and it wasn't until the summer of 1994 that we met again.

We still argue, but we laugh, too. George helped me to learn forgiveness and the power of human love. Without one, we cannot hope to find the other.

'Love on the Wing, Letters of hope from prison' by Sara Thornton and George Delf, will be published by Penguin on 17 June, price pounds 6.99.

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