“Mamma? Why are you crying? Is Daddy going to die?” “No darling, Daddy is fine”. It’s a lie, clearly, but I just want to tell her something good first, before the real telling has to happen. She is totally in the dark about the entire situation. We had deliberated telling her during the trial sometime, but it had all gone so well: We had a great judge who was bending over backwards to do the right thing, sometimes making mistakes and then having the good grace to correct himself after further consideration. I trusted him, trusted in the process, the Great British Justice System. I believed my friends when they said that nothing this wrong could happen to people like us. My friend had even asked her psychic who had given us the all clear. Water tight! In any case, how do you tell a nine year old that her Dad might be sent to jail for 10 – 16 for something he hasn’t done? Where do you even begin with that? How does she get up and feel good about the world knowing that everything that means the most to her could be taken away in a moment? I’m about to find out how to do that, and very fast.
I choose my words carefully. “Daddy is coming home now and we have something to talk to you about together when he gets back”. There is no way on earth that is going to fly. “No Mamma, tell me now” she says, all the beatific lightness gone from her small face. I mumble something incoherent about him needing to work away for quite a long time. He has never worked away. It’s an outright fib and she knows it. Smelling weakness she is on the attack. “Tell me Mamma! You have to tell me now!” and then, suddenly, “is Daddy going to jail?”. Her question blind sides me. “Yes” I say, trying to hold her with my eyes and with every part of myself, trying to make it sound plausible and bearable and failing as she screams out “No! Why! He can’t go to jail, what has he done?”.
I beat out a pocket sized explanation about films and governments, money and rules, mistakes and injustices. It makes no sense and yet she understands immediately. “They can’t send Daddy to jail… he hasn’t done anything wrong! I need my Daddy, don’t they know I need him? How long for? Tell them they have made a mistake Mamma”. She is screaming now, and hysteria reminiscent of the terrible two’s (and threes and fours in her case) is setting in. “How long for Mamma? How long?” I deflect the question, avoid it, protest ignorance, but she carries on and on, wearing me down. I offer a conservative figure, chopping the minimum sentence in half. She howls in pain, doing the maths. “I’ll be fifteen Mamma.”
She is out and out screaming now. “He’ll miss my whole childhood!” Now I’m crying too. It is true. I watch my lovely girl being broken in front of my eyes. I feel as if I’m tearing pieces of her skin off. She offers to sell everything she owns and sleep on the floor to right the wrong that Rob is supposed to have done. She has been saving her pocket money for over a year now in a bid to be the sensible one of the family and save up for something big one day – a car maybe. She offers it all up now, trying to find a way to make this thing that is happening somehow not happen. It takes me over an hour to get her to realise that we can’t change this. She is totally inconsolable.
I call our other daughter Okha, 18 who is out on an uncharacteristically sophisticated first date at the Tate Modern. She has been in the loop ever since our house was dawn raided 7 years ago and her toys and drawers were meticulously searched by police hoping to find what exactly? I’m still not sure. I tell her that I need her and beg her to come home to help me with Tala. She promises to come immediately, but it will take at least an hour in the traffic. I don’t know what to do to stop the screaming and the shredding of my little girl’s heart. “Nothing can take Daddy away from us really”, I say. “He is ours and nothing can stop us loving him. We mustn’t let them break our hearts”. “It’s too late” she shouts, “they have broken my heart, its broken already”.
Finally I hear the familiar ting ting of Rob’s bike bell announcing his homecoming. Usually Tala and I race our dog Ruby to the door to greet him and it’s a noisy scene of bike bell, dog bark, giggling and kissing, but tonight only I go. He looks wonderfully familiar on the door step, smiling still despite it all. I can’t contain the love I feel for him, now more than ever. The huge pride I feel for this extraordinary strength that he finds from heaven only knows where to have dealt with this thing, year after year, day after tedious day in court and for what? Did we ever really have a chance?
Ultimately all the facts, all the evidence (or total lack of it), all the laws and all the legislation had counted for nothing. All the prosecution had to do was to make it look bad, which is easy to do if you present discombobulated aspects of the scheme out of context and ignore everything that made it work and keep asking the jury if they thought it was right that money could circulate off shore. They didn’t think that it was right. The fact that it can and does and that this is pretty bog standard in the financial world didn’t matter as the jury was empowered to decide for themselves what they thought about it. No tax expert was ever put on the stand – HMRC wouldn’t have one, as they could never have got anyone to disagree with the scheme, and we were not permitted to use our expert for technical legal reasons that I haven’t yet managed to get my head around.
Finally at gone 11 Tala reaches the end. She is totally cried out. We tell her about two little boys, friends of ours, whose Dad had a sudden heart attack and died instantly in the bedroom above them as they played downstairs. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be the kind of bedtime story I’d advise, but right now this is a huge comfort to her and to me. I think about his lovely wife, always smiling, always graceful and full of life and light and pull myself together. This is not a sad story, it’s a journey.