Sitting up in a garden: the mother left for dead

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The Independent Online

New photographs of Abigail Witchalls reveal her remarkable progress since she was stabbed and left for dead by a stranger in a Surrey village.

Gradual improvements in the condition of the paralysed 26-year-old, who is pregnant, have continued to surprise her doctors.

The pictures show her working with her occupational therapist, Emma Linley, on improving the movement that is slowly returning to all of her limbs – particularly her right hand. She was photographed sitting in a garden in the grounds of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, Middlesex, where she is receiving treatment.

Hospital scans at seven and 11 weeks showed Mrs Witchalls' pregnancy was "progressing normally", doctors said yesterday.

The improvement in her condition is impressive considering that doctors who first examined her after she was stabbed in the neck while walking home with her son, thought she was clinically dead.

The young mother can now lift her right arm a small amount and is able to move the fingers in her right hand. She can sit up in a wheelchair for most of the day, is able to speak softly and has begun to eat small amounts of puréed food. However, the thinness of her arms shows how the stabbing, which left her spine damaged, has taken its toll on her body.

Her recovery seemed only a faint possibility after she was stabbed in front of her 23-month-old son, Joseph, as she pushed his buggy down a country lane in her home village of Little Bookham on 20 April.

Abigail said yesterday: "I'm excited by every bit of progress and happy to be able to spend more time with Joseph. I'm in good hands and feel incredibly blessed." Her husband, Benoit, added: "Members of the family spend time with Abigail every day. We all enjoy sharing her sense of achievement in her progress, and her positive attitude to her continuing serious disability. We are looking forward to the time when she will be able to resume family life with us all."

A hospital spokesman added that Abigail had made "a lot of progress in small but important ways".

"Her breathing is much stronger, which enables her to speak softly and now she only needs the support of a ventilator, to help her breathe, during the night. She is now beginning to swallow and to enjoy eating small amounts of puréed food, though she still receives most of her nutrition through her naso-gastric tube."

Detectives from Surrey Police are compiling a file to send to the Crown Prosecution Service in the next few weeks in which they will put together their case against the prime suspect, who has killed himself.

They believe Richard Cazaly, 23, who died in Edinburgh apparently from an overdose after fleeing Little Bookham, carried out the knife attack. Mrs Witchalls will be asked in the next few days to try to identify the suspect's blue car among photographs of 11 other vehicles. A blue car driven by the knifeman was seen by the victim.

If the CPS believes there is enough evidence against Mr Cazaly to bring a murder charge – if he had still been alive – then the police will be able to declare the case solved.