‘He killed my mum and nearly killed me, but I survived’ Stevenage author says her account of overcoming childhood tragedy could help others
- Credit: Archant
A Stevenage mother has put pen to paper to relive the moment her own mum was strangled to death in bed beside her, in a bid to document her triumph over tragedy.
Amanda Wright was just four years old when a brutal attacker raped and murdered her mum at their home in the town.
She was lucky to escape from the horrific ordeal with her life and, now aged 40 and a mother of two children, she has written the book – Without a Mother’s Love – in the hope that it will help others understand traumatic life-altering experiences and come to terms with them.
In it she talks candidly about the day in March 1980 when Broadwater park-keeper John Dickinson attacked her 25-year-old mother Susan Lowson at the family’s Colestrete home.
“I knew of the man, I think he was looking for lodgings in the area and he stayed the night with us,” said Amanda, who has lived in Stevenage for much of her life, but also spent shorter periods in Knebworth and Little Wymondley.
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“I was in my mum’s bed and we both woke up. He grabbed my mum out of the bed and started attacking her. I was just told to keep quiet.
“Then he went for me and tried to suffocate me. He put his hands around my neck and put a pillow over my head.
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“I went unconscious and when I came round the bed was on fire. Luckily the milkman heard me scream and came and broke the door down and got me out.
“I was left with burns on my legs and a skin graft on my left thigh. I was in hospital on my fifth birthday and had to stay there for about eight weeks.”
The Comet followed the story closely at the time.
Milkman Michael Knowles was given a bravery award by magistrates for his courage in rushing into the burning bedroom to save Amanda.
Dickinson, who had an address in Lygrave in the town at the time of the crimes, was sentenced to a double life term for murder and arson.
He wrote to friends in Stevenage from Brixton prison, maintaining he had not deliberately murdered Amanda’s mum.
His claims in court that Susan had consented to kinky sex and died accidentally were rejected by the jury – but Amanda was too young to give evidence about what she had seen, and defend her mum’s reputation.
Despite the trauma, Amanda was able to bounce back. She moved schools – she had been a pupil at Bedwell Primary School but switched to Peartree Spring Primary School – and went to live with her dad and his new partner.
She said: “I loved being at school and being around other children. I still had the capacity to play and be imaginative after what happened.”
But she had been deeply affected by the ordeal.
“At night I used to wake up with this massive urge to just get out of the room, which was terrifying,” said Amanda.
After moving on to secondary school at Heathcote, Amanda moved out of her dad’s home, where she had never really settled, and got a job at Knebworth House with a friend.
She recalls summer days having adventures cycling around the countryside, and beginning to date the man who would become her husband.
Later she started working at Strathmore Infant and Nursery School’s after-school fun club to help children enjoy their education in the way she had.
Time has flown and she has gone from becoming a helper at the Hitchin-based club to a manager, and has had two children – 13-year-old Susanna, named after her mum, and Isabelle, nine – along the way.
She has also somehow found the time to study for a degree in educational studies.
Asked why she decided to tell her story after so many years, she said: “It just felt like the right time.
“I had seen other books about people who had been through traumatic experiences on a par with my situation. I thought people who have been in a similar situation might relate to my story, and people who haven’t might find out how I came through it and managed to come through the other end.”
Dickinson was moved from a mainstream prison to a psychiatric ward, and Amanda believes he must have suffered from mental health problems at the time of his dreadful crimes.
Amanda says she still thinks of her mum, but not about the way in which she was taken from her.
She said: “I think of her as a mum and about the precious time we spent together.
“She wrote some nice poems about me which helped me a lot when I was a teenager.
“I know she loves me and that I’ve got to carry on for her, but the fact she’s not going to be here as a grandmother for my kids is very upsetting.”
‘Without a Mother’s Love is published by John Blake Publishing and is widely available in paperback, priced £7.99.