‘Best pal begged for help to leave ex – her body was found rotting in cupboard’

Vicky Cherry and her cousin and best pal Donna Gregory were inseperable.

After growing up together in Preston, Lancashire, the two women spoke every day on the phone and shared all the details of their lives with each other.

Donna said: “Vicky was older than me, and she looked after me and mothered me. I really looked up to her.

"If she liked a band, I liked them too. If she dyed her hair, I’d do mine the same. I idolised her.

“As we got older, we’d go out together and we became such good friends.

“Vicky had a very troubled up-bringing and she had her problems. But she had a heart of gold.”

When Vicky began a relationship with Andrew Colin Reade following the tragic death of her first husband, Donna instantly knew there was something very troubling about him.

And when Vicky confided in her that Reade was treating her badly, Donna, knowing her cousin was vulnerable after being recently widowed, told her she was there to help.

Finally Vicky had enough and told Donna she was leaving him.

Desperate to support her best friend, Donna told Vicky she and her three children to move in with her, feeling relieved that her cousin would finally be happier.

But despite their plans, for two weeks Donna could not get hold of her cousin and she started to worry.

She could not imagine the horror that was to come.

Reade later admitted to concealing the body of his partner, 44-year-old Vicky, who had not been seen alive since October 2015.

Her body was hidden inside an airing cupboard for 15 months as Reade claimed to friends she had left him and moved out.

He was arrested on suspicion of murder but claimed he found her dead in bed next to her.

Reade was jailed for four years and four months in June 2017 after he admitted preventing a lawful burial and perverting justice.

Neighbours told an inquest that they recalled a strange odour inside the one-bedroom flat and revealed how Reade tried to cover it up with air-freshener when they were invited round.

A Domestic Homicide Review published at the end of June revealed failings by the police and other agencies who ought to have been looking her.

Now Vicky’s cousin, Donna Gregory, who was best pals with the tragic mum for many years, has spoken of her heartbreak.

Donna, 38, says: “I was the last known person to speak to Vicky before her death. I carried her coffin at her funeral but we were told there was very little left of her. It was sickening.

“She had such an undignified, horrible death. The very least she deserved was a proper burial. It infuriates me that Reed has got off so lightly.

“I blame myself, because she was supposed to come and live with me; she was days away from a new start. Maybe I could have saved her.

“And maybe the authorities could have saved her too; if anything good can come of her death it should be that lessons are learned and other women are better protected.” 

Vicky had three children while Donna had fivebut in 2013, Vicky’s husband, Steve Cherry, died from an epileptic fit and she was devastated.

Donna said: “She really struggled after Steve died, and she went through a tough time. She self-medicated with drugs.”

The following year, Vicky began a relationship with Andrew Reed. The couple met at a New Year’s Eve party.

Donna says: “I met Andrew just once, at our grandmother’s funeral, and I disliked him immediately.

"He and Vicky appeared very close but I later realised it was because he was so possessive and he wouldn’t let her out of his sight.

“She confided in me that they were arguing a lot and I was worried about her. She said he wasn’t treating her very well.

"She was quite vulnerable and I wish now, looking back, I had done more to try to talk her into leaving him, there and then.”

One week before she went missing, in October 2015, Vicky called Donna and asked if she could go and live with her.

Little did she know it was the last time she would ever speak to Vicky. She was the last known person to have any contact with her.

Donna says: "Vicky told me she’d had enough of Andrew. We made plans for her to come and live with me. I was looking forward to it, and I knew she’d be much happier if she was single again. 

"I called and texted her constantly and she just didn’t reply. In the end, I was actually annoyed with her.

"I thought she had decided to stay with Andrew and she just didn’t want to tell me.

"I sent her a message to say: ‘I presume you’ve changed your mind and you’re sticking with him. You could at least have let me know'. I was really angry.

"I called Vicky’s mum, Jan, and she hadn’t hear from her either. But we knew Vicky had a chaotic lifestyle and we just expected her to turn up at some point."

But Vicky seemed to have disappeared.

Donna said: “I began to worry; I asked around and nobody knew where she was.

"I called the police but they didn’t seem to take it seriously; they went to the house but couldn’t find her.”

Police launched an appeal but the case seemed to make no progress.

Donna said: “Vicky had vanished into thin air. We couldn’t work it out. I was so worried about her; as time went on, I knew she had to be dead. It was the only explanation.”

In January 2017, Vicky’s body was found in a cupboard at her home and Reade was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Donna said: "I was preparing myself that she was dead. But I could never have been prepared for what had happened to her.

"The police had found her body, stuffed in a cupboard, underneath old bike parts." 

In June that same year, Andrew Colin Reade, 43, pleaded guilty to concealing Vicky’s body for 15 months and preventing her burial.

The cause of death could not be ascertained because she had so badly decomposed.

But a pathologist concluded she may have died as a result of strangulation as injuries to her neck were detected.

Reade claimed he had panicked after he woke to find his girlfriend dead after they had taken a cocktail of illicit drugs.

He had wrapped the body in a duvet and plastic sheeting and hidden it in a cupboard.

Reade admitted intending to pervert the course of justice by giving misleading and inaccurate information about the whereabouts of Victoria to police officers, pharmacists, and family members.

He had cashed in employment benefits totalling up to £1,000 sent to Vicky in the three months after her death.

Reade was jailed for four years and four months at Bolton Crown Court.

He refused to attend the inquest into her death in November that year and an open verdict was recorded.

A report, published at the end of June, revealed that police and other agencies involved with Vicky and Andrew Reade did not consider the possibility of domestic abuse and did not communicate well enough with each other.

Four months after the discovery of Vicky’s body Bolton’s Be Safe Strategic Partnership decided to conduct a review into how organisations dealt with the couple in order to establish any lessons which can be learnt for the future.

It found that Reade’s previous history as a domestic abuser was not sufficiently recognised or information shared between agencies such as the former Bolton Integrated Drug and Alcohol Service (BiDAS), GPs, Bolton at Home, the National Probation Service and the Community Rehabilitation Company.

His potential risk may have been “under estimated”.

Reade and Vicky were both drug addicts and each had had involvement with a number of agencies over the years.

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