Ken Embley’s family were torn apart when his partner’s schoolgirl daughter stabbed him to death.
In a harrowing interview they tell STEF HALL they were never made aware his killer may have been known to mental health services.
Vulnerable teenager - or manipulative killer?
Sophie Holbrook had witnessed things no child should have to see - domestic violence, in her own home, inflicted against her mum.
Mum-of-two Susan, who had alcohol problems, had suffered at the hands of several partners.
When her mum began a relationship with old friend, Ken Embley, it set a chain of events in motion that would lead to tragedy.
One evening in 2005, the 16-year-old and her boyfriend returned to the small two bedroomed home she lived in with her mum on Royds Street, Accrington, to find Ken had put Sue in her bed after she had fallen asleep.
Furious Holbrook grabbed Ken’s face, assaulted him then left. A short time later she returned to find Ken and her mum still in her room.
She launched a violent attack, stabbing him in the neck with a kitchen knife.
Ken, who collapsed on a sofa, was rushed by ambulance to Blackburn Royal Infirmary but was pronounced dead.
Her actions left Ken’s family distraught. His sister, mum-of-three Sharon Blakelidge is busy decorating her townhouse in Blackburn. She moved to the area eight years ago because it held fond memories of her childhood with Ken and their brother Sean.
Their parents, Marion Embley, a cleaner, and Jimmy Embley, a mechanic, brought them up on a council estate set against the backdrop of Blackburn’s skyline.
In happy times they would take their blond haired children on trips to the Lakes and Blackpool, and make snow angels with them in the winter.
But their humble childhood was peppered with challenges, from Ken’s ill health to financial difficulties.
Sean, 41, a postman from Darwen, says: “ We didn’t have the best upbringing, our parents were trying to save up to move us off the council estate because they knew how hard we found it at school.”
The three siblings were very close. Ken was born with scoliosis, a severe curvature of the spine, and had one kidney.
He attended St James primary school in Darwen, and Everton High School, but spent long spells in hospital.
Marion, 62, recalls: “His stays in hospital made him the compassionate person he was. The nurses would even ask him to help if a baby was crying. There were very poorly children, some with no limbs or open wounds but it never fazed Ken. He was full of love.”
Ken’s condition worsened with age and he was unable to work. He loved football but had to sit at home while his friends went to play.
He played snooker when he could manage it, and was a brilliant artist.
Sharon says: “He was a proper character. He would never let anything get him down, and if I was ever in a mood he would always jolly me up and say: ‘Come on sis’.
“He was a little stunner, all the girls were after him.”
When Ken left school, he started to learn skills at Training 2000, a charitable trust set up by Lancashire businesses, and met Susan Holbrook for the first time. The pair were friends for years before starting a relationship.
The Manchester United supporter left home late in life, to move in with a former girlfriend. After it ended, Ken lived in Accrington with his parents.
He frequented the Oak Tree Inn and captained the pool team. His family say Sue was a heavy drinker who was taking a cocktail of medication. This led to difficulties at home.
One night in 2005 Sophie found her mum in her bed and the fatal argument broke out.
Sharon covers her mouth, visibly distressed, as she recalls: “ It was the early hours of the morning and I woke up, which is unusual. I couldn’t sleep. I heard a knock at the door.
“Sean came in with the police and just said: ‘You need to sit down sis, our Ken is dead.’
“I was numb. I had no idea who had done it, I never suspected it would be her.
“I met her once when I went to Ken’s. She was very cocksure. I’d heard about her being in trouble with police, and hitting her mum.”
Ken’s devastated parents, Jimmy and Marion, requested everyone wear Ken’s team colours to his funeral. Afterwards they invited Sue to their home, seeing her as the person who turned her daughter in. Marion says: “We tried to befriend her because Ken cared so much for her but after a while we went our separate ways.”
Sean says: “Ken was the mediator, the older son. Since his death a lot has happened in the family that if he were here, he might have been able to smooth over.”
In 2006 Sophie pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds she was suffering from an “adjustment disorder”.
Passing sentence, Mr Justice Holland said apart from her bedroom, the rest of her home had been a place where people continually drank to excess.
He told her: “In those circumstances your bedroom was a place of sanctity.”
Two psychiatric reports concluded her judgment had been affected, and the court heard she had tried to kill herself after the attack. Sophie, now 25, was sentenced to a three-year community rehabilitation order with a condition to move to York with her stepdad.
Weeks after being sentenced she breached her order, returning to her mother in Hyndburn, and failing to attend an appointment. No action was taken.
Ken’s family live in fear of bumping into her in the street and have only just learned she may have been under the care of mental health services at the time of Ken’s death.
They are tormented the health trust will not confirm details, with bosses citing they cannot discuss individual cases or confirm if an individual had come into contact with their services.
Marion says: “Jimmy suffered post traumatic stress disorder as a result of what happened and had to retire early. As part of his therapy he had to read out loud newspaper cuttings of what happened to Ken. He couldn’t handle it and stopped his treatment. Since then he has had no support, while she probably has everything.”
“We feel cheated Ken got through all his health problems for his life to be cut short by her.”
Sean adds: “ In court they spoke of her terrible upbringing and her diminished responsibility but where was the back up? Where was the person to say: ‘Yes we saw her on such a date, this is what we did, we were concerned for her?’ There was none of that, no evidence as such, it was just accepted.
“The irony of it all is that Ken had a far more difficult upbringing than her, but he never went on to kill anyone.
“People with mental illnesses should rightly be supported to live in the community, but they need to be properly supported and monitored. It may not have made a difference in our case but it could prevent other cases escalating to that degree.”