Dragged to court just for trying to see her grandchildren after rift with son's widow... but Norma insists: 'I'll never give up'

  • Norma Moore tried to contact her twin grandchildren for four years
  • Relationship with daughter-in-law, Lesley, soured after her husband, Norma's son, died of bowel cancer
  • 69-year-old, accused of harassment by Lesley, was acquitted after prosecutors offered no evidence at hearing

By Helen Weathers

Doting grandmother: Norma Moore with one of her twin grandchildren whom she now yearns to see

Doting grandmother: Norma Moore with one of her twin grandchildren whom she now yearns to see

Hoping for a glimpse of their precious grandchildren, Norma Moore and her husband John parked outside the twins’ junior school and waited patiently for the bell to ring.

More than three years had passed since Norma, 69, and John, 74, had last seen the twins, now aged nine.

Estranged from their daughter-in-law Lesley-Anne, 44, their once-warm relationship had broken down in the most tragic of circumstances.

Widowed in 2009 when her husband Stephen — the Moores’ only son — died aged 41 from bowel cancer, Lesley-Anne (known as Lesley) and Norma had fallen out as grief ripped apart this once happy family.

Shortly after Stephen’s death, Lesley moved away with the grandchildren, leaving no forwarding address, and began rebuilding her life with a new partner.

It had been a spur-of-the-moment decision. Norma didn’t know what else to do. All she wanted was for Emily and Jack to race into their open arms shouting ‘Nanny! Grandpa!’ — just like they used to.

But as the pupils poured out, there was no sign of the Moores’ grandchildren.

So Norma and John took the fateful decision to drive to Emily and Jack’s new home, hoping to talk to Lesley, a veterinary nurse, to resolve this painful situation face to face.

‘All the blinds were drawn downstairs. It was as if the house had been sealed up. There was no sign of the children and I was heartbroken,’ says Norma. ‘It was our last resort. We’d sent solicitors’ letters, tried the mediation route, but with no success.’

Far from resolving the situation, however, things were about to take a remarkable and even more distressing turn.

Last June, Norma was reported to the police, accused of alleged harassment. It was the second complaint and it wasn’t the last.

Police officers first spoke to Norma in December 2009, after Lesley Moore found out her former mother-in-law had hired a private detective to find the grandchildren. Norma had also emailed Lesley’s new partner.

Police were called again this year when Norma sent Easter cards for Emily and Jack to their school, along with a letter to the headmistress asking her to give them to her grandchildren.

Last week — as the Mail exclusively revealed — Norma Moore found herself in a criminal court having previously refused to sign a harassment order.

Fight: Mrs Moore has not seen her twin grandchildren, pictured with parents Stephen and Lesley, since a few months before her son died of bowel cancer in May 2009, at the age of 41

Fight: Mrs Moore has not seen her twin grandchildren, pictured with parents Stephen and Lesley, since a few months before her son died of bowel cancer in May 2009, at the age of 41

Norma wanted the situation dealt with once and for all and thought the only way forward was for this matter to be dealt with in court. She pleaded not guilty when she first appeared in July, and was acquitted on November 5 after prosecutors offered no evidence. The case was dismissed.

Norma’s solicitor, Judith Kenney, said it was the first case in her 30-year career that ‘a decent, law-abiding mother and grandmother’ had been placed at risk of a criminal conviction.

 

Yet it is not a triumphant woman who opens the door to the neat, pristine home she shares with John, her husband of 47 years, in the Worcestershire village of Tenbury Wells to talk for the first time about the case.

Norma may now be ‘on a mission’, campaigning on behalf of grandparents who have no legal rights of access following divorce or bereavement, but all she really wants is the sound of her grandchildren’s laughter filling their home again.

Accused of harassment: For four years, Norma Moore had tried to get in touch with her son's young twins, whom she hadn't seen since he died in 2009

Accused of harassment: For four years, Norma Moore had tried to get in touch with her son's young twins, whom she hadn't seen since he died in 2009

‘A restraining order would have been devastating; the implications huge,’ she says. ‘If I’d bumped into my own grandchildren in a supermarket and spoken to them, I could have gone to prison for up to five years. What a horrendous situation to be in.’

‘Although I’d been prepared to fight my case and make a stand for other grandparents in our situation, I felt euphoric when I was acquitted. The next day, however, I came crashing down again because I haven’t really achieved anything, have I? I still can’t see my grandchildren.’

It is hard to imagine a more upsetting situation for all parties concerned and not to wonder how on earth it came to this. Last night Lesley Moore told the Mail that losing her husband Stephen ‘was the worst moment of my life and it is impossible to explain the distress and trauma the family went through’.

‘Prior to Stephen’s death our relationship with his parents had been good. But following his diagnosis it deteriorated rapidly. I respect and understand they too were grief-stricken,’ she said, adding Norma’s behaviour at the time and since ‘compounded an already tragic situation’.

'The atmosphere was hostile - I couldn't cope'

Regardless of their feelings towards each other, however, Norma believes it unfair that the children can’t see the grandparents they once adored. 

‘I just can’t bear the thought of my grandchildren growing up not knowing who their Daddy was,’ she says simply. ‘Losing our son Stephen is devastating enough, but to lose them, too — our one link with him — is unbearable.’

Pulling out a folder containing letters and cards sent from Lesley during happier times, Norma insists that she and Lesley had a good relationship for many years, in sharp contrast to the miserable situation today. One reads: ‘Dear Norma and John, Just to say I can’t think of two nicer people who I would want for my second Mum and Dad. Love as always Lesley-Anne.”

Norma tells me she couldn’t have loved Lesley more if she’d been her own daughter. And Lesley confirms there were no issues between them until Stephen was dying.

Stephen was 17 and Lesley 15  when they first met at Tenbury  High School.

‘Stephen and I had always been close, but from the moment he was born I was determined never to be one of those jealous, possessive mothers. I don’t think I ever was,’ says Norma. ‘Lesley was his choice and if he was happy, so was I. I welcomed her with open arms.’

When Stephen, a building contractor and keen rugby player, told his mother he was planning to propose, Norma gave him a diamond solitaire ring which had been in her family for four generations.

Norma and John paid thousands of pounds to give Stephen and Lesley the church wedding of their dreams on June 20, 1998, and were eagerly looking forward to becoming grandparents. So they were thrilled when Lesley became pregnant in 2003.

Court appearance: Lesley Moore arrives at Worcester Magistrates court after accusing her mother-in-law of harassment

Court appearance: Lesley Moore arrives at Worcester Magistrates Court after accusing her mother-in-law of harassment

Long before Emily and Jack were born, Norma started knitting for the babies. ‘When Lesley was very heavily pregnant, John and I paid for them to have a holiday in our caravan so they could have a break,’ she says.

‘While they were away, we cleaned their home from top to bottom, washed the windows in and out, tidied the garden and cleared five hours worth of ironing,’ says Norma.

‘When they returned, Lesley was so overwhelmed. She was thrilled and said, “You’re the kindest people I’ve ever met.” Even her sister said we were more than just in-laws.’

Emily and Jack (whose names we have changed to protect their identity) were born by Caesarean section in February 2004 and Norma will never forget her son’s proud face as he walked out of the operating theatre to show them pictures of their grandchildren on his camera phone.

‘The first time I cuddled Emily and Jack in hospital, I was bursting with happiness. I had wonderful visions of the future,’ says Norma.

‘I’m a natural mother, I adore children and they gravitate towards me. I love teaching them songs, mixing paints and helping them with jigsaws, etcetera, I like doing all the things good and involved nannies do with their grandchildren.’

Norma and John were happy to help out all they could. They bought a new £500 twin pushchair and paid for the young family to go on a Center Parcs holiday for Lesley’s birthday when money was tight.

‘Lesley was a wonderful mother, very absorbed in the twins, but also very generous in that she let us see Emily and Jack as much as we wanted. She’d often pop round here and go upstairs for a little rest while we played with the twins, which was heaven,’ says Norma.

‘Every Tuesday, when Stephen was at rugby, I’d go round and help Lesley feed the twins and put them to bed. I think even Lesley would accept that we were brilliant grandparents.

‘She once told us off for going on a nine-week holiday, saying we were losing “bonding time” with the twins. She made us promise never to stay away that long again.’

Norma and John were on holiday in France when Lesley phoned them in June 2008 to let them know that Stephen, who was diabetic, was in hospital. They raced back to see him and were shocked at how poorly he looked.

Stephen had been admitted to hospital complaining of severe constipation, sickness, fatigue and pains in his abdomen, which seemed to be swollen. At first doctors thought his symptoms were caused by a diet he was following to lose weight, and he was prescribed medication to ease his bowel problems.

'I want the twins to know who their Daddy was'
 

Then a scan in December 2008 revealed that not only did Stephen have bowel cancer, it had already spread to his liver and was terminal. He died five months later. ‘When I found out my son was going to die, I went into shock. I was ice-cold and shaking like a leaf.

‘As a mother, the worst thing that can happen is to lose a child. At times I just didn’t know how I was going to survive that,’ says Norma.

‘Stephen was terribly brave, but I’ll never forget the sight of him in tears at the twins’ fifth birthday party. He said, “Mum, this is the last birthday I will ever see.” My heart was in pieces.

‘I’m one of life’s fixers. If there’s a problem, I try to solve it, but the one thing I couldn’t fix was my own son.’

Norma accepts the stress and grief of Stephen’s diagnosis brought emotions to the surface and there were times when the two women clashed.

“I admit that at times I was in a terrible state. I felt very angry that Stephen’s cancer hadn’t been diagnosed sooner and I felt I’d let him down as a mother,’ says Norma.

‘At times I couldn’t cope with Lesley’s moodiness with me, when we’d been so close. The atmosphere at times felt very hostile.’

Lesley Moore told the Mail: ‘She told me in Stephen’s presence that I was to blame for his illness’. Norma Moore disputes this.

Lesley said she had hoped they might be able to repair the damage that had been done, but now feels relations are now so strained between them that her ‘primary concern is the protection of my children from emotional harm’.

‘If the public was aware of some of the things I have had to endure, I would hope and expect that I would have their sympathy and understanding. Despite reference to a “battle” to see the grandchildren, I hope Norma will reflect upon her behaviour and whether it is truly in the best interests of the children.’

Norma accepts she may have upset Lesley, but says: ‘Don’t all families have disagreements?’
Norma last saw the twins about a month before Stephen died.

‘The twins were on the trampoline in the garden and ran over and gave us a big hug. Stephen said, “Tell Granny what’s going to happen,’” Norma recalls, tears welling in  her eyes.

‘One said, “Daddy’s going to live on a cloud,” and the other added, “Daddy’s going to live with God.” We had no idea we’d never see them again.”

Emily and Jack, who were just five when their father died, were not at his funeral because it was felt they were too young.

Norma and John had hoped that with time the rift would heal. They very much hoped to help Emily and Jack come to terms with their loss.

She claims letters to Lesley for the children went unanswered, as did calls — but Lesley denies this. Birthday and Christmas cheques went uncashed.

‘I understand that Lesley has been through a terrible time. She lost her husband when the twins were only little,’ says Norma.

‘She’s met someone new, wants to move on and clearly doesn’t want us around any more. But I want to see my grandchildren and I need them to know who their Daddy was. For that reason I will never give up trying.’

Grandparents have no legal right of access, but they do have the right to apply to the family court for access to their grandchildren.

As Norma talks, her mild-mannered husband John — a retired farmer and former farmers’ union secretary — brings us coffee and mince pies.

Since Stephen’s death, he has suffered several mini-strokes which Norma believes were caused by the stress of bereavement and not being able to see their grandchildren.

‘People say to us, “When the children are older they will seek you out”, but time isn’t on our side,’ says Norma. ‘We can’t afford to wait. That is why we can’t give up. We’ll never give up.’