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Real Life

Real life: I found my worst nightmare in my mum's bin

There was a terrible smell as I lifted the lid…

By As told to Take 5

Joanne Lee, 47, shares her horrific real life story;

I helped my little sister and brother put their shoes on.
"You don't want to be late for kindy," I said.
I was only 14 but it was my job to look after Catherine, four, and Chris, three.
I'd cook and clean while our mum, 31, went out drinking. Although Mum had a job as a hospital care assistant, we had no money. The house was filthy.
When I was fifteen, I met my first boyfriend and fell pregnant. Mum was unsympathetic.
"Another mouth to feed," she grumbled.
Then, five months into the pregnancy, I went into labour.
My baby lived for half an hour before passing away. The hospital nurse was more caring than Mum was.
Back home, I continued to look after my siblings.
One morning, I went into Mum's room to clean. There was a large blood stain on her cream carpet.
"What happened?" I asked her.
"Nose bleed," Mum replied.
I didn't think any more of it.
Me at 13 with Catherine, aged three (right). (Image exclusive to Take 5)
The following year, I fell pregnant again and gave birth to a little girl, Natalie.
I got my own place but saw my siblings most days.
When Natalie was three, I had a second daughter, Samantha.
Mum was still drinking heavily. Sometimes she put on lots of weight.
Then almost overnight, she'd lose it all. It was odd.
One New Year's Eve we went to a family party. Mum boasted loudly to everyone that she was pregnant.
"Is it true?" Catherine, 16, asked me.
"Who knows?" I shrugged.
A few months later, Mum sent Catherine to stay with me.
"She says she wants some peace and quiet," Catherine told me.
But a week later, she was allowed home.The next day, Catherine called me in tears from a phone booth. She said she'd noticed a bad smell in the house.
"Mum told me it was rotten bacon," she sobbed. But the stench had been coming from the wardrobe in Mum's bedroom.
"I found a shiny red bin in there and inside the bin there was a baby," Catherine cried.
No! Surely not.
I took Catherine to my house, then drove back to Mum's.
She was watching TV and drinking coffee. I was shaking like a leaf.
Me and Mum back in 1993. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
"Have you had a baby?" I asked her.
"Yes," she replied calmly. "It was stillborn."
She said she'd given birth to a little girl who wasn't breathing so she'd stored her body in the bin in her bedroom.
"What's her name?" I whispered.
"Helen," Mum said casually. She didn't seem at all upset. I was stunned.
"No!" she screamed, her eyes blazing. I knew better than to ask again.
But I couldn't bear the thought of that little girl – my half-sister – lying in a bin upstairs.
"Please let me bury her," I pleaded. "You can't leave her there forever."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"You do it," she said.
So the next day, I picked Mum up.
She emerged from the house, carrying a canvas bag. She popped it in the boot, as if it was groceries.
A sickening smell hit the back of my throat as I drove to the cemetery.
There, I dug a shallow grave with my bare hands, whilst mum watched in silence.
When the hole was ready, I laid the canvas bag gently in the ground, and covered it with earth.
A sickening smell hit the back of my throat as I drove to the cemetery. (Image: Getty Images)
Driving home, I was blinded by tears and once inside, I was violently sick. I knew what I'd done was wrong.
But what choice did I have?
If I reported the death, Mum could go to prison for concealing a death. I didn't want that.
At least now the baby was at peace.
But Catherine and I found it hard to live with our secret.
Together, we cried for the little girl that we would never know. Mum never mentioned the baby again.
Years passed.
Catherine left home and had three children.
One year, Mum was moving house and Catherine and I offered to help her.
As we loaded a van, we caught sight of the red bin. My heart was in my mouth.
Why has she kept that?
Mum drove to her new house and Catherine and I stayed behind to pack the last few things.
The red bin stood in a corner. Catherine and I looked at each other and nodded.
I took a deep breath and lifted the lid slowly. There were three air fresheners inside, with old cloths wrapped around them. Underneath was a bin bag, securely tied.
No, no, no!
"I can't do it," I gasped, banging the lid shut.
We took the red bin to Mum's new house."What've you got in there?" Catherine asked, trying to sound casual.
"Books," Mum snapped.
We didn't ask any more.
I couldn't believe the secrets Mum kept. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
Months passed and the image of the red bin niggled away in my mind.
I remembered how Mum's weight had fluctuated…
The blood on her carpet… Had she been pregnant multiple times? Were there more bodies in that bin?
It ate away at me until one day I bit the bullet and called the police.
They agreed to search Mum's house.
When they finished two officers knocked on my door.
"We're arresting you under suspicion of murder," one officer said.
"Me?" I'd cried. I'd been trying to help and somehow I was being blamed?
At the police station, I was told Mum and my brother Chris had also been arrested. My solicitor came.
"What did the police find?" I asked him.
I held my breath.
"Three babies," he replied.
One was in the red bin. Two were wrapped in bags in Mum's bedroom.
My head fell into my hands and I sobbed.
The charges were dropped against my brother and me.
In time, my mother Bernadette Quirk, appeared in court and admitted to concealing four births – including the one I'd buried.
The other three she'd kept hidden for 20 years, wrapped in newspaper, sheets and plastic bags.
With my sister Catherine (left). (Image exclusive to Take 5)
Mum said she gave birth to the babies when she'd been drinking heavily.
DNA tests enabled officers to trace three separate fathers. None of them knew Mum was pregnant.
It was impossible to tell if the babies were born still born.
Mum was sentenced to a two-year community order under supervision.
After the court case ended, Catherine and I held a funeral for the four babies.
We invited Mum to attend but she refused. I had no contact with her after that.
Years passed and I wrote a book about what happened called Silent Sisters.
I remained estranged from Mum who died earlier this year, aged 64, after years of ill-health.
My own children are everything to me which makes what Mum did even harder to accept.
We will never know the truth of what happened.
I am just so relieved those babies have finally been laid to rest.

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