What drove a father to kill his three children?

Neighbours were shocked by last week's tragic deaths. Nina Lakhani visits the small Gloucestershire village to find out what led to Ceri Fuller's last acts

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The Independent Online

Why would a father murder his own children? A quiet village community in Gloucestershire has been left asking just that, following the deaths of Sam, Rebecca and Charlotte Fuller, seemingly victims of a stabbing assault by their father Ceri Fuller.

Police are still trying to fill in the gaps between Thursday 12 July, when the four were reported missing, and last Monday, when their bloodied bodies were found in a secluded nature reserve that surrounds the disused quarry Poles Coppice, 80 miles from home.

Less than 10 miles from Shrewsbury, there are two striking things about the forest on Pontesbury Hill: the drive up from the village is along a narrow, winding residential lane, which you could not just stumble upon; Mr Fuller, 35, must have known where he was heading. Secondly, the forest paths are muddy, overgrown and quite steep in places, rising above the 80ft quarry drop where Mr Fuller's broken body was found, meaning that the children most probably went into the forest willingly, unsuspecting. Toxicology is yet to confirm whether the children or father were under the influence of any drugs.

There are acres of secluded woodland and several disused quarries near the Fuller home in Gloucestershire. A couple, who live with their children in a house close to entrance of the forest and who did not want to be named, said: "We've lived here for 14 years and nothing happens, we rarely even see a strange car. He must have known about it somehow, had some connection to know this place was here.

"Those kids must have thought they were out having a nice time with their dad, why wouldn't they? We haven't been able to think about much else since it happened."

Ceri and Ruth Fuller moved to the village of Milkwall around a year ago, a half-hour walk from the small market town of Coleford and just west of the Forest of Dean. But the family were, in the broader sense, local and Mr Fuller, a science graduate, had worked as a supervisor at the paper mill in nearby Lydney for several years.

Flowers and cards have been placed outside the family's semi-detached house where the curtains are now drawn, and offer the only obvious signs of something amiss since the police and forensic teams left on Tuesday night.

For the elderly gentleman who lives next door, it is the silence that is most difficult. "The kiddies were always playing in the back garden, we could hear them happy; now it is really quiet without them, it is just awful. I never heard anything to suggest there was a problem, nothing untoward at all, just happy kids."

Some neighbours had seen the children in the back garden playing on their trampoline, but it was difficult finding anyone who really knew them. One neighbour from a few doors down said, bursting into tears: "I wouldn't have known them if I'd bumped into them on the street."

The quizmaster at the village pub, the Tufthorn Inn, organised a minute's silence on Tuesday night – a way to mark the loss of their neighbours who none of them knew, but are left wondering how a father could do this to his own children.

Don MacLeod, a psychologist who specialises in dealing with deeply traumatised people, believes this relatively new phenomenon of fathers killing their families and then themselves, is predicated by two major things.

"Huge feelings of jealousy where the man concludes 'If I can't have them, no-one can'," he said. "In other words, if things aren't going to work out as they want, then they are not going to work out at all. This can be motivated by revenge, so leaving the partner to suffer.

"The other thing is economic failure, when people have had financial security for their family and it is threatened or lost, it seems unbearable and they feel alone, and they want it to stop." Mr MacLeod believes both can be seen within our increasingly individualistic culture, where losing what you've got becomes intolerable.

"Individualism is all about more acquisition or at least hanging on to what you've got, that's the mindset," he said. "That's why this new form of annihilation or nihilism seems to be an extension of the suicide mindset; they want the present to stop, and once they make that decision, they calm down."

People would no doubt sleep easier if they are given a concrete reason which can begin to explain why an apparently loving father and husband just flipped. Dr Michael Sinclair, a consultant counselling psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society, said: "Alarm bells start to ring as soon as you hear 'they were the perfect family', as most people have problems and no-one knows what goes on behind closed doors.

"Stabbing your children is an act of violence, and it seems to have been a planned event, which makes me speculate that there was a growing resentment and anger within this man, and he reached a point where he couldn't do any more to manage the feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth. It may have been motivated by revenge but it also could have been a perceived altruism, that the children wouldn't cope without him and so it was better to take them with him."

He discounts the idea that any man who kills his children must be mentally ill. "The fact that he was working, functioning as a father and in the community makes it more likely that this was a serious emotional problem, a build-up of rage and anger which ended with an attempt to regain control over his feelings and family."

Becka, 8, and Charlotte, 7, attended St John's Church of England primary school in Coleford, whereas Sam, 12, was just finishing year 7 at Lakers School. If adults cannot comprehend what happened, how can it begin to be explained to their school friends?

Mr MacLeod, the clinical advisor following the Hillsborough disaster, said: "The classic advice is wait, listen and take the opportunity when it comes –all these children will feel grief and fear, but the emotional response comes at different times for everyone."

'I am still proud of him': Grandfather's tribute to his son-in-law

After his three grandchildren were murdered by their father, Ceri Fuller, who then killed himself, Ron Tocknell wrote an open letter paying tribute to the four dead.

Ceri. Perhaps some of you feel anger toward him. You know him only as the man who did this.

I know him as the man who fell in love with my daughter. I know him as the man who worked tirelessly to support the family he worshipped.

I know him as the man who, with my daughter, raised my beautiful grandchildren in an environment of love and joy and laughter.

He and Ruth taught them responsibility so they knew why they couldn't always get their own way, and they were able to accept these boundaries with understanding instead of resentment.

I don't think I ever heard the phrase "because I said so" in the Fuller household. When he played with them, it was never as an adult amusing the children. He would surrender himself to the joys of playing as if he, too, were a child.

When he had to address misbehaviour, he did so with reason and never with punishment.

Perhaps we will never understand the torment in Ceri's mind that drove him to such an act, but I know this was not an act of malice or spite.

I weep for my daughter's pain, I weep for the loss of my grandchildren and I weep for Ceri's pain and confusion in equal measures.

There are no villains in this dreadful episode. There are only victims.

He will always remain a man I am proud to have called my son-in-law.