“She was happy, she was loving. All she ever wanted to be was a mum.”
Exactly seven months after giving birth to her baby daughter – a child she was told she may never be able to have – Kayleigh Hanks was murdered by her partner, at the age of just 29.
After a nine day trial, Ian Paton, of Snowdrop Rise, St Leonards, was found guilty of strangling Kayleigh and was jailed for a minimum of 17 years.
For her family – who sat patiently day after day as heartbreaking evidence was read to the court – the life Kayleigh lived, and the impact she had on others, will never be forgotten.
Her elder sister Emma said her and Kayleigh were more like twins – so in tune with each other, side by side for 29 years.
Her mum Sue still recalls Kayleigh holding onto her hand as they prepared to cross the road together.
Her daughter, now 14 months old, recognises her ‘mummy’ and kisses pictures of her.
“Kayleigh was happy. She was loving. She is going to be missed forever”, said Emma.
“It’s like this can’t be real. It feels like a bad dream that one day we will wake up from. But in reality this is how we will live for the rest of our lives.”
Following Kayleigh’s death, her family was inundated with messages from people who knew her and were touched by her kindness, including her estate agents, local councillors and her manager.
Her funeral, at Hastings Crematorium, was attended by 300 people, and helped paid for by people who had come to know and love Kayleigh.
Born in Taunton on January 1, 1990, Kayleigh was the first baby girl born there that decade.
She, Emma and her mum moved to Hastings in 1995 after going on holiday and deciding to never go home.
The inseparable sisters attended Castle Down Primary and Helenswood. At 17, Kayleigh got her first job working at Tesco Express in Silverhill, which later turned into One Stop.
From there, she decided to go into the care sector. First, with Cedar Wood House and then at Lennox Lodge, in Bexhill, where she worked for approximately five years.
“She was a caring person”, Emma added.
“If you care for people, then that job isn’t too hard to do. Kayleigh treated people the way they wanted to be treated. She always wanted to do it.
“If you were homeless, she couldn’t just walk past you. She would have to give you some change or some food. It’s just the way she was.
“Wherever she was, she made friends with people. After her death, a person who had met Kayleigh on a holiday to Jersey messaged me to say how lovely she was. Another person from her school days got in contact and said Kayleigh didn’t know her all that well but said Kayleigh had intervened when she was being bullied for being autistic.”
Christine Bayliss, a councillor for Bexhill Central, where Kayleigh lived, met her in the summer before she was murdered.
She said: “She impressed me with her determination to get a better life for herself and her beautiful daughter. I was devastated when she was murdered. A life cut short when there was so much to live for. I’ve met Kayleigh’s family and she was lucky to have caring people who stood by her and who will now bring up (her daughter).”
Kayleigh loved her job and adored her colleagues but, according to Emma, the one thing she desperately wanted to be was a mum.
During a previous marriage, she had been told she may never be able to have children due to an ectopic pregnancy.
However, in 2018, she fell pregnant and on December 21 gave birth to her baby daughter.
Emma added: “That’s what makes it hard. (Her daughter) was the most important thing in her life. All she ever wanted was to be a mum. Once she became a mum, she had everything she wanted. It’s heartbreaking because that’s what she was.
“She is living in her daughter. Every time I see her I see my sister. She always made sure (her daughter) had the best.”
The day before her death, Kayleigh and Ian visited Emma, in Hastings, with their daughter. At about 6.30pm, the three left to travel back to Kayleigh’s flat in London Road, Bexhill. That was the last time Emma spoke to her sister.
She can still recall the moment two police officers knocked on her door at 4.30am on Sunday, July 21, to tell her that her sister had died.
“I thought it was some kind of joke”, Emma said.
Since Kayleigh’s death, Emma has taken on full custody of her daughter.
Emma added: “She is my flesh and blood. I love her as my own and I have done since she was born.
“On the Wednesday before she died, Kayleigh said to me ‘if anything happens to me, I want you to look after (my daughter)’. I thought she was just being paranoid.
“Life is a constant reminder. She died on July 21, exactly seven months after her daughter was born. Every 21st of each month is another anniversary. The 21st of this month will mean her daughter is 14 months but also seven months since her mummy died.
“This will live with us for the rest of our lives. It still doesn’t feel real. We will never forget it.”