Here, Luke Hart, 28, tells the story in his own words.
F￼rantically loading furniture into the van, I could feel myself sweating. There’s not much time, I thought.
Along with my brother Ryan, 25, I was helping our mum, Claire, 50, and sister Charlotte, 19, move house.
Our father, Lance, was at work but he’d be back home for lunch soon. And we had to be gone by then.
The move had been arranged quickly, but it was 26 years in the making.
Growing up in a run-down farmhouse, we lived on the breadline, eating what we grew. Dad had moved us to the sticks, claiming it was safer for me because I had a severe nut allergy.
Knowing no different, it never struck me as odd.
Ryan was a year younger than me, and we both loved being big brothers to our perfect baby sister, Charlotte. Our childhood could have been idyllic, if it wasn’t for Dad.
While Mum was patient and sweet, Dad flew off the handle and scared us.
Moving to a village to be closer to my high school, Dad found part-time labouring work and Mum worked on a meat counter.
She loved her job, but Dad hated her being out of his sight. He’d phone her at work to check she was there. Mum even spotted him peeking at her from behind some shelves.
‘I’d like to be a butcher,’ she said one day, excited. But she never did sign up. Dad wouldn’t let her.
Taking Mum’s wages, Dad rationed them back to her. ‘You’re not spending money on coffees,’ he’d snap.
So she tried inviting her friend over. As they chatted in the kitchen, Dad sat there on his laptop. ‘Shall we go in the lounge room?’ Mum would smile, but he’d follow awkwardly. Then later, he’d accuse her of cheating, and even of being gay. It was all untrue.
His outbursts were so stressful they made Mum sick. She was battling multiple sclerosis and his rants triggered her symptoms. When my friends came round, Dad stalked us around the house. Why can’t he leave us alone? I thought.
Always looking for a fight, if someone even just dropped a plate he’d rage for hours.‘We can’t afford that!’ he’d scream.
Everything he did was about control. But he’d treat himself to holidays and even gambled.
When Mum was working, Dad insisted on putting our food on the table at 4.15pm – at least five minutes before the bus could drop us off.
Blasting us for being late, we’d glumly eat our cold meal. I wish we could leave, I thought, every day. There was just no escape. He had cut us off from Mum’s family, and he controlled all the money. He was never violent, but the threat was always there.
Keeping baseball bats in every corner, Dad claimed it was to protect us.
‘If we work hard at school, we can get good jobs and get Mum and Charlotte out of here,’ I said to Ryan. It was always our dream.
In school holidays we’d snatch a few precious hours of freedom before and after he came home for lunch.
Mum and Charlotte did each other’s make-up and watched films together. They’re more like sisters, I thought. We played in the backyard with our dogs Indi and Bella. If we ever hugged each other, he’d explode in a rage. ‘You don’t do that to me!’ he’d say.
So doting on our dogs, we understood we were also doting on each other. Mum and Charlotte adored animals. They were allowed to have a stall at a car boot sale, giving money to animal shelters. Their kindness was the exact opposite of Dad.
Generous, they still believed there was some good in him deep down. ‘Dad, this isn’t right,’ Charlotte would say gently. A flicker of fear would cross his miserable face. She shows him just how corrosive he is, I realised. He knows she’s right.
When Ryan and I stood up to him, he’d get us back in horrible ways. Once he fed our dogs food that made them sick.
Another of his ‘tricks’ was to try to divide us. ‘You’re my favourite,’ he’d smile at me, sickeningly.I despise you, I thought. Are all families like this behind closed doors? I wondered.
Knuckling down, I passed my exams and went away to university. Ryan followed. Mum wasn’t allowed a phone or to use social media, and Dad screened our calls, so Ryan went home every weekend to check on her. But now our world was bigger than Dad’s prison. He hated it, while Mum beamed with pride.
By Christmas 2016, we’d graduated and got jobs. I lived a few hours drive away, and Ryan was an hour’s flight away. Charlotte was gaining independence too, spending time at her boyfriend’s. Now, we could help Mum. ‘We’re going to get you out,’ we told her.
Buying her a phone, and a pass for swimming lessons for Christmas, we got to work.
Making secret plans, we’d come and take Mum to view houses, telling Dad we’d taken her swimming. The agents quietly understood when we insisted they never speak to Dad if he answered a call.
‘We have to be able to bring the dogs,’ Mum said.
Finally, in July 2016, we were ready to go. After Dad went to work, we drove round to pack up. It was a race against time before he got back for lunch. Then we found out he’d locked her documents and keys in a safe. Calling an emergency locksmith, he gave me a knowing nod, too. He’s helped women flee before, I realised. First the agents, now the locksmith, was this more common than we knew?
Pulling away in the van, I breathed a sign of relief.
At our new place, it was like the weight of the world lifted. ‘I’m so proud of you,’ Mum told us. Sitting together, we imagined our future.
Saying goodbye, Ryan and I left Mum and Charlotte.
Then, four days later, Ryan called me at work. ‘Have you seen the news?’ he asked. Then, I saw a headline about our sleepy hometown. Three dead in shooting. ‘Let’s not jump to conclusions,’ I said, feeling panic rising. But deep down, we both knew the truth.
Leaving work, I sat by the phone at home while Ryan called the police to describe Mum and Charlotte. Then my phone rang again. ‘Have you got someone with you?’ an officer asked. My world crashed down. Dad couldn’t control our lives anymore, so he’d taken Mum’s and Charlotte’s.
That morning, my mum and sister had gone swimming. Afterwards, Mum was due to meet Dad to exchange some belongings.
Instead, he’d crawled under their car after they went inside and jumped out when they came back to the car park.
He’d shot our beautiful Mum once, then turned the sawn off shot-gun on sweet Charlotte. Then he’d taken his own life. Hearing shots, the pool manager raced over. ‘It was my dad who shot me,’ Charlotte told him, before she passed away.
He’d left a twisted 12-page letter saying, revenge is a dish best served cold. Police revealed he’d started planning the murders weeks ago, sensing his grip loosening. He’d even googled how many men kill their families? while we sat next to him in the lounge room.
Ryan and I were beyond distraught. Saying goodbye to the most precious people to us was indescribably hard. And knowing Dad had taken them shook us to the core. Yes, he was controlling and coercive, but how had he done something so extreme? Then, we had a revelation.
Sitting in a police station, Ryan and I saw a poster about coercive behaviour. It listed controlling money, banning friends and isolating people as red flags. Wow, I thought. That was all our normal.Police told us that domestic abuse isn’t just physical violence.
Psychological, emotional, financial abuse and isolation can be just as damaging over the long term.
I desperately wished we’d known Mum and Charlotte were at risk of being killed. It was agony knowing we might have saved them. Worse, news reports described Dad as a good man who acted out of ‘twisted love.’ I was disgusted.
He was always a tyrant and it wasn’t about love.
Determined to speak out, we now give talks sharing our story and we launched a campaign – Coercion and Control Awareness.
You’ve made me realise I need to escape, one woman emailed us. And we are determined to help more.
Our motto is the famous quote, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’
Dad was an evil man, but we will never let him triumph.
Luke and Ryan’s book, Operation Lighthouse, is available at Amazon.com.au
What is coercive control?
Operation Co Co is a that’s life! initiative aiming to raise awareness of the danger of emotional abuse in domestic relationships. Coercive control (Co Co) is a non-violent form of belittling, putting down and controlling a partner.
Our Watch Chief Executive Officer, Patty Kinnersly, explains, ‘Things like dictating which friends a partner can or can’t see, controlling all of the financial decisions, or monitoring partners online without their knowledge, are abusive and should not be part of any relationship.’
There are six common types of non-physical abuse:
Financial: Controlling how a partner spends their money.
Social: Deciding who they can spend time with.
Emotional: Put-downs and jokes at a partner’s expense.
Spiritual: Disrespecting their religion or not letting them practise their religion.
Technological: Using technology like a phone to control, embarrass or demean a partner.
Stalking: Harassing them with unwanted contact. This can include following someone home under the guise of making sure they get home safe.
For more information of the signs of coercive control, go to noexcuseforabuse.org.au or operationlighthouse.co.uk. For help call 1800 737 732 (Aus) or 0800 456 450 (NZ).
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