Remembering Stephanie Slater – By Peter White

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The funeral has taken place of Stephanie Slater, who moved to the Isle of Wight to find solace after being the victim of one of Britain’s most despicable crimes.

Back in 1992 Stephanie was a 25 year-old estate agent working in Birmingham when she was viciously attacked by a man that she was showing around a house. The prospective house buyer was Michael Sams, who six months earlier had kidnapped and murdered Leeds teenager Julie Dart.

Stephanie was held at knife point, bound, gagged, blindfolded, and driven to Newark in Nottinghamshire where she was held prisoner for eight days in the most appalling circumstances. She was finally released after a ransom payment — but her miseries did not end there.
After moving to the Isle of Wight with best friend Stacey Kettner, Stephanie allowed me to interview her about her horrendous ordeal. It was a harrowing story, but one that she told with courage, dignity, and even the occasional smile.

In subsequent years she smiled a lot more. She and best friend Stacey Kettner did everything together — watching comedy programmes on TV, listening to their favourite music, seeing friends and driving in their favourite mode of transport, a camper van.

Sadly, after rebuilding her life on the Island, living first in Ventnor, and then Ryde and Havenstreet, Stephanie was taken ill during this year’s Garlic Festival, and was rushed to hospital. She was diagnosed with cancer and died a few days later, aged just 50.

During my interview with Stephanie she revealed how she was kept in Sams’ workshop, secured in a hand-made coffin that was so tight she had to ‘corkscrew’ herself into it when Sams told her. He then left her overnight in the coffin, locked in a wheelie bin in freezing conditions. It left her not only with emotional scars, but also with physical pain for the rest of her life.

Sometimes she was handcuffed to an iron bar above her head, and told if she tried to free herself by pulling down, tons of rocks would fall on her and kill her. She was also brutally raped by Sams, but only ever told Stacey of that ordeal years later.

After eight days of sheer hell, Stephanie’s employers agreed to meet Sams’ £175,000 ransom demands. He dropped her back in Birmingham after the police had already visited her home and told family members that one of them would have to identify the body, because they were convinced she was already dead.

Yet within hours of her release by her captor, she was told by police she couldn’t even hug family members because she was still a ‘crime scene’. Then she was cruelly thrust into a Press conference to re-live her nightmare ordeal. She was also driven in a police car along the route where she had been taken on that fateful first night, to try to help police piece together the crime.
Despite her inexcusable treatment by West Midlands Police, later in life she began advising officers on how they should deal better with crime victims, particularly young women.

After moving to the Island with Stacey, Stephanie agreed to be interviewed by me. She explained why she chose the Isle of Wight as her new home, saying: “I needed to go somewhere to start afresh, because everywhere I looked there were reminders of what had happened. The only place I loved, and had visited regularly from a baby to my teenage years, was the Isle of Wight.

“When I thought of the Island I thought of safety, comfort and happiness. I couldn’t get that out of my head. But I only wanted to live in Ventnor so I couldn’t see the mainland. Whenever I looked over at the mainland I hated it. Everything bad was there.

“Stacey and I lived in Ventnor for a couple of years, but by then I was getting better so we moved to a house in Ryde, knowing I could look over at Portsmouth and it didn’t bother me. I did a lot of healing on the Island, but it wasn’t easy. There were times when I drove my car up to Culver and just sat there thinking ‘who would miss me?’

“I went through terrible depression, and after moving here I spent about six years as a recluse. I lost Stephanie on January 22, 1992 – or at least most of her. There were bits of her still inside. I changed my name by deed poll to Phoenix Rhiannon because I didn’t want to be her anymore.

“It felt nice for a while, but then I realised I was not afraid of her, or what she went through any more, and I was not ashamed of her. There was a time when I saw Stephanie Slater in the mirror and I ran away from her. I ran so far and fast that I went full circle, and a few years ago I bumped into her again. She’s fine, and it’s good to have her back and to be her.”

It was a privilege for me to have known such a strong, honest lady, who had to endure so much in her short life. At the funeral service, best friend Stacey held back the tears as she revealed: “We had fun, and we never grew up because we didn’t have to. We loved watching comedy shows of TV, and driving around in our VW camper van. Now I am doing my best to be the parent for her dog, but the house is so empty.”

Stephanie’s coffin was taken to the IW Crematorium in a camper van, and during the service there were tributes from other close friends and from a member of West Midlands Police.

*Michael Sams, now 76, was finally caught following an appeal on TV’s Crimewatch, and remains in prison. But even after he was convicted and imprisoned, he continued to commit offences, attacking a female probation officer. He also became notorious for his attempts to sue the prison, first for losing his artificial leg, and then because his bed was too hard.

Thankfully, there is no indication he will ever be released. But that is scant consolation for the family of one young girl he killed, and for all but wrecking the life of Stephanie, who has sadly passed away at such a young age.

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