Family reveals how killing of Avril Flanagan tore them apart
The dream of a new life in Spain ended for Avril's parents after her brutal killing, says Gerard Couzens
THEY were following a path well-trodden by thousands of families before them -- the classic dream of a new life in the sun.
But the similarities with the hordes of Irish expats who have settled in Spain ended one morning just over three years ago, when their beautiful daughter was taken from them in the cruellest of ways.
The day Avril Flanagan died -- stabbed by her jilted British boyfriend nearly 50 times two years after she left Swords, Co Dublin, for the Costa Blanca -- an indelible mark was left on the lives of her parents, two brothers and wider circle of family and friends.
Doting mum Barbara, who stayed in Ireland after her funeral and became estranged from husband Gerry, has endured a rollercoaster of emotional turmoil which has persisted to this day.
Gerry, a former Dublin Bus engineer, stayed in Spain with Avril's oldest brother Ger and used a job at their pub, Smiling Jacks, as a crutch to help him cope with the tragedy.
Avril's killer, Alan Daulby -- facing 20 years in jail after being convicted last week of murdering her on May 29, 2009, in the resort of Cabo Roig, near Alicante, where they both lived -- is the brother of Ger's wife Emeline.
Their relationship has survived the appalling crime and they have a 22-month-old daughter together -- but it has understandably fractured the unity that existed between the two families.
The drama played out in excruciating detail this week as the two sets of parents heard in court how Daulby stabbed Avril 47 times before she breathed her last breath.
Big Gerry -- as Barbara still affectionately calls her husband -- sat in dignified silence near Daulby as lawyers spelled out the accused's clinical attempt to cover up his crime.
The 26-year-old Liverpudlian refused to speak to investigators for more than three years while he was held on remand.
He finally broke his silence at the trial opening on Monday to claim he crashed out after a night of drink and drugs, woke up next to Avril and panicked.
As the three-day trial neared its end he dramatically confessed to killing Avril and apologised to her family but with a desperate 'Get out of jail Free' card: "I didn't think it was Avril, I confused her for an intruder."
It was a pathetic attempt to save his skin in the face of overwhelming evidence against him.
Daulby claimed he could remember little except being knocked over the head.
He told the jury of eight women and one man at a court in Elche, near Alicante, that he had panicked and fled his third-floor flat in an apart-hotel near Avril's parents' pub.
Hotel owner Sharon Booth blew a hole in his claims by recalling how he came down to reception just over an hour before he killed his ex-girlfriend and bought a beer from a vending machine looking "totally sober".
His own dad, Alan Sr, said he looked "normal" when he went to wake him up for work at around 11am.
And sister Emeline, fighting back tears, recalled how he answered the door naked and angrily ordered her away after she went looking for missing Avril shortly before 1pm with Avril's brother and Emeline's then-boyfriend Ger.
They discovered why he had been so desperate to stop them getting in a few moments later when her dad forced a back door.
There was no sign of Daulby and at first no sign of Avril -- but as Alan Sr waited in the apartment in the hope his son would return, he spotted something hidden under the sofa.
It turned out to be Avril's blooded body wrapped in plastic, ready to be transported out of the flat and into Daulby's car.
Barbara called her daughter by her pet name of Abbey.
Speaking after last Thursday's verdict, she said: "I thought to myself at first it couldn't be her because she doesn't wear red. Then I realised it was blood covering her from head to toe and I started to scream.
"I went to the window and shouted out: 'Someone get an ambulance'. But Abbey's nurse friend Marie, who was in the apartment by this stage, just held my hand, looked at me and said: 'She's gone'."
"He had taped her up like a mummy. I got hold of a pair of scissors and cut the tape and plastic from around Abbey's neck and her hair, which should have been a beautiful blonde but was black from all the blood.
"I wanted her to breathe even though I knew she couldn't. Then I leant down beside her and said: 'Abbey, I have you love, I have you'. She was face down and I was glad because it meant I didn't see everything he had done to her.
"Emeline was on her knees beside me shouting: 'I don't have a brother!'"
She added: "I can understand someone losing their temper and stabbing someone but then panicking and going to get help.
"But I can't believe that he had a shower and cleaned up while she lay covered in blood on his floor.
"That apartment was spotless and it must have been a bloody mess because Avril was a mess.
"That's the one image I have stuck in my mind, of her lying there dead and him showering and tidying up the apartment to try to cover up his awful crime."
Neighbours living next to Daulby at Playa Marina 1 hotel, a three-storey building a short walk from Avril's parents' pub, recalled hearing a "deep woman's scream" at seven minutes to 10.
The hotel owner saw Daulby race past her on the stairs and down to his car at around 12.45pm.
DNA evidence showed he had spent those three hours using a mop and bleach to wipe up Avril's blood, showering and changing clothes and, at one point, stuffing her mutilated body into a small suitcase before wrapping her in blankets and plastic sheeting he fetched from his car. He tried to burn the murder weapon -- successfully removing his DNA -- and Avril's belongings on waste ground after fleeing and getting 200km north until armed police stopped him after a chase.
The jury's guilty verdict was unanimous and they delivered it after little more than an hour's deliberation.
He was conscious of what he did and was not out of his mind on drink and drugs, they said.
Barbara is certain to this day he could have got away with his sickening crime -- and forced them to endure the nightmare of a life in limbo like the McCanns or missing Amy Fitzpatrick's parents -- if she had not been due to fly back to Dublin that day with Avril and got friends and relatives involved in the search for her.
She heads back to Ireland this weekend keen to start a fresh chapter in her life.
"When Abbey died I wanted to die. My three sisters and my sons kept me going," she said.
"I never went back to Spain after her funeral.
"People think it's strange but I don't feel hatred towards Alan Daulby for what he did to my daughter -- I just feel nothing.
"I know that he let her down in front of us all, that was my biggest thing.
"She was trying to prove he was a good guy and in the end, our worst fears came true.
"Big Gerry's heart is broken. He's a lost man. He was so proud of Abbey and loved her so much. She was the apple of his eye."