Nobody who sees Luke and Ryan Hart taking their beloved dogs for a walk on Monday will realise the significance of the day.
But it will be a poignant one of reflection for the brothers, five years on from their father murdering their mum and sister in Spalding swimming pool’s car park.
After inflicting years of domestic abuse and coercion, he lay in wait for his wife and daughter with a shotgun before turning it on himself.
It came just a couple of days after Luke and Ryan had managed to move Claire, 50, and Charlotte, 19, out of the family home in Moulton and into a rental property in Spalding.
Their father was so controlling of his family as they grew up that their dogs – Max, Indi and Bella – were the only things allowed to be shown love and compassion.
“Our best moments with mum and Charlotte were with the dogs,” said Luke. “Our father would be out at work and we’d take them for a walk.
“They were always low-key moments but had a lot of emotional significance for us.”
Luke and Ryan believe Max was murdered by their father a couple of weeks before the move.
“Max died in mysterious circumstances,” said Luke. “We believe our father was testing his ability to kill when he killed Max, to see if he had it in him to then kill us.
“In the days after we’d escaped he was desperate to get all of us together for one last walk. He was basically planning to kill all of us and the dogs.
“The dogs were so important to us that he wanted to kill them as much as he wanted to kill us.”
Luke, 31, and Ryan, 30, might spend part of Monday’s anniversary taking Indi, a vivacious Jackahuahua, and Bella, a Labradoodle, to a new place for their walk.
“They’re both lovely dogs,” said Luke. “Everyone who meets them comments on their caring and friendly personalities – and that’s like mum and Charlotte woven through them both.”
The brothers, who now live in Surrey, had been travelling worldwide to share their story prior to COVID-19. Sadly, lockdown led to a spike in domestic abuse and homicides.
“Coercive control is, in essence, lockdown,” said Luke. “For a lot of people, that’s their daily experience, but I think for others the lockdown might well have been the catalyst for coercive control behaviours to become more visible.
“That’s been a kind of sub-narrative of COVID – it hasn’t had the same emphasis as some of the other impacts. The impact on those who have been locked down with abusers has probably been beyond traumatising because it’s gone on for a very long period of time now.”
The brothers have welcomed both the increase in media awareness of coercive control and more countries considering legislation.
Their story has helped others understand how domestic abuse and danger can be present without the explicit violence wrongly believed to also be necessary.
Luke said: “The thing that we hope for more than anything is that our story creates conversations.
“The more we talk about domestic abuse, the more we’re going to get better at spotting it and dealing with it.
“Mum and Charlotte were always giving and trying to help other people and I think knowing that their legacy is, hopefully, saving other people’s lives and making a real impact is something they would be proud of.”
Remembered Forever – the book the brothers wrote about their experiences – is available to buy through their website www.cocoawareness.co.uk