Real Life

REAL LIFE: I caught dad murdering mum

Natalia Mikhailova, 31, had just hours to prove his depraved excuse was a lie.

By Take 5 team

Natalia Mikhailova, 31, shares her heroic true story;

I sat out in my front yard, enjoying the early summer sunshine and chatting with my neighbours.
Then I heard my phone beep.
It was a message from my friend Nicole.
She was pregnant with her first child, and I assumed she was sending me a baby update.
But when I read her message my stomach lurched.
Mum's dead.
Her mother Lesley had committed suicide.
It was so shocking I didn't know what to say.
In the end, I replied: I'm so sorry, Nicole. If you need anything, please ask. I'm here for you.
Over the next few days, I couldn't stop worrying about her.
She told me her dad Derek had found her mum's lifeless body in a bedroom at home.
I'd met her parents briefly and while I didn't know them well, they seemed like a lovely couple.
I shuddered to think how awful it must've been for her dad to discover that.
I kept in contact with Nicole and she took me up on my offer of help.
I worked as a roofer and she said her dad needed a hand with a roofing job.
So the following day, I headed to the building site where her dad was working.
He seemed like a broken man.
"I'm so sorry for your loss," I told him.
We worked in silence for a while.
Then out of the blue he said, "Have you got a boyfriend?"
I rolled my eyes.
"I've got terrible luck with men," I replied. "And don't get me started on my ex…"
I was just making conversation and Derek laughed.
Derek Potter.
"Here's a nail," he said. "You can use it to hammer his head to the roof."
I smiled but thought it was a strange thing to say.
Eventually, we called it a day and Derek invited me to the pub.
There, I asked how he was holding up.
"I loved my wife very much but she was doing my head in so I had to strangle her," he said.
I almost choked on my drink.
Was he joking? Because it wasn't funny.
"Don't tell Nicole," he added.
I looked him straight in the eye and could tell he was being deadly serious.
I nodded my head, agreeing not to tell his daughter.
If this man was a murderer, I didn't want to anger him.
Then the conversation took a different turn.
"Why don't you move in with me?" he asked casually.
"You don't need to have sex with me. Just move in."
What the hell?
Panicking, I shook my head and made my excuses before leaving.
Back home, I was still in shock as I tried to make sense of it all.
The police didn't suspect that Lesley's death was anything other than suicide.
Was Derek just a strange old man trying to wind me up?
Or had he really murdered his wife and made it look lie suicide?
I knew I couldn't tell Nicole.
She'd just lost her mum, and she was pregnant.
The shock might make her lose her baby too.
I decided not to get involved.
Me and Derek at the pub that fateful night.
The next day, so as not to arouse suspicion, I went back to the building job.
But as soon as I saw Derek, I couldn't keep my feelings in.
"Do you remember what you told me last night?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied smoothly. "I remember everything."
His words sent a shiver down my spine.
As we finished up that night and headed home, I was glad I'd never have to see him again.
But over the next few days, I couldn't get his confession out of my mind.
Although the police didn't suspect foul play, there were a few things about Lesley's death that didn't add up.
She'd suffered from arthritis.
Would she have been physically able to kill herself?
And why do it when her daughter was about to give her a grandchild?
I realised if Derek had killed her, then she deserved justice.
But I had to act quickly.
Her body was due to be cremated in just over a week and any evidence would be destroyed.
With shaking hands, I picked up my phone and called the non-emergency police number.
"Someone I know has confessed to a murder," I said.
It sounded so unbelievable, like something from a tv show.
But the police took me seriously and I made a formal statement.
I was told not to contact Nicole but I couldn't help myself.
"I'm sorry, but the police are going to question your dad," I said, in a phone call.
"Why?" she asked.
"They'll explain everything," I said, and hung up.
Lesley captured on CCTV just a few days before she died.
A few days later, a full post-mortem was carried out on Lesley's body and Derek was arrested.
He denied everything, which meant there'd be a trial and I was a credible witness.
In time, Derek Potter, 64, pleaded not guilty to murdering his wife.
When it was my turn to testify, I was racked with nerves but determined to get justice for Lesley.
During the trial, Derek pointed the finger at other people and tried to tarnish Lesley's reputation.
He claimed she'd died accidentally during a sex game and even blamed me, saying I'd misunderstood him.
But the evidence of the post-mortem was damning.
It revealed that Lesley had suffered 30 rib fractures, as well as internal bruising in her neck and stomach cavity.
She'd been strangled, and then her body was hanged as if she'd killed herself.
Me today - I'll always be glad I came forward.
Derek was found guilty.
He'd staged the whole thing.
After he killed his wife, he'd left the house then returned home and pretended to find her dead.
Then he'd dialled for emergency services.
It was despicable.
The judge Mr Justice Soole told Derek: "You murdered your wife of 26 years by strangulation as you held her down by the force of your body. She would have been no match for the strength and ferocity of your attack."
He said if it hadn't been for my intervention, Derek would have got away with murder.
He jailed Derek for life and ordered him to serve a minimum of 17 years behind bars.
Outside the court, Nicole and her family thanked me for coming forward.
I'm just relieved that the truth surfaced in the end.
I still have no idea why Derek confessed to me.
Maybe he had a secret crush on me.
Either way, I'm glad he did.
Otherwise, he'd have got away with the perfect crime.

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