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Remembering Jill Saward

DIVA co-publisher Linda Riley remembers an exceptional individual.

Linda Riley

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:00:42 GMT | Updated today

The tragically early death of Jill Saward at just 51 marks the passing of a truly rare and exceptional individual, someone who not only survived an unimaginably horrific crime, but who came through her experience to change forever how society treats rape and its survivors.


Jill was tied up and repeatedly raped, sodomised and assaulted with implements by two of the three men who broke into her family home in March 1986 - her vicar father and her boyfriend were beaten almost to death with a cricket bat - and the assailants were eventually caught and sent to trial.


What followed can only be described as a shocking miscarriage of justice. Judge Sir John Leonard, declaring that "the trauma suffered by the victim was not so great", jailed the gang leader, Robert Horscroft, who did not take part in the rape, to 14 years, while rapists Martin McColl and Christopher Byrne received five and three year sentences respectively. These wholly inadequate sentences prompted the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, to break with convention regarding politicians criticising judges, to express her "deep concern", with cross-party support from Labour's Neil Kinnock.


It was sad to see the BBC Twitter feed yesterday refer to Jill as the "Ealing Vicarage Rape Victim". She was so much more than that. She was a survivor and a vigorous campaigner, a world away from the negative passivity of victimhood.  Jill became the first ever UK rape survivor to waive her right to anonymity (although irresponsible reporting, including publishing photographs of the family home just four days after the crime, made identification easy) and dedicated much of her life to campaigning for the rights of survivors, and to educating police, politicians and potential jurors on issues of sexual violence. Her tireless campaigning has delivered real and lasting change to how rape is reported, how survivors are treated, and how the courts handle sexual assault cases. 


Her work and impact was, and remains, so wide-ranging that it is almost impossible to single out one particular initiative or campaign, but we can all be grateful for her co-founding Juries, a group which campaigns for juries in cases of sexual assault to be briefed about myths and stereotypes which often hinder justice in the prosecution of sex crimes.


Although I met Jill Saward only once, our friendship developed online as, as a twin herself, she often commented on pictures of my twin daughters, leading to long conversations about the nature of twinhood.


We first met online in 2008 when, after being touched by her story, I sent her a Facebook request. To my astonishment she accepted and we started our online friendship. I particularly remember playing an online word game with her - almost obsessively - until one day she stopped and told me that, as much as she loved the game, she refused to play anymore because word games had changed their format and you now had to include personal data to play and she did not want to provide them: just a small example of how principled she was.


I once invited her to London to an event where Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan were speaking, around the time when Judy had just declared "some women deserve to be raped by the way they dress". I half expected Jill to give Judy a very hard time over her comments, but she surprised me with her measured calm. She waited until the end of the talk, and went to talk to Richard and Judy - whom she already knew having appeared several times on their show -  privately. For me, this epitomises the sort of person Jill was: calm, understanding and wanting to talk things through gently to influence change.


Since her death I have been truly astonished about the number of people I have encountered who have said how Jill would give them counselling over traumas they had been through and what an amazing support she was. I had no idea of the level and depth of her work; all I know is that when my mother passed last year, Jill was constantly there for me, offering support when I needed it most.


I was reading through my messages yesterday and I realised I had never thanked her for all the support she gave me. She didn't do what she did for thanks or recognition but - and I know I can speak for others as well as myself - thanks are most certainly due. Jill Saward dedicated her life to helping others, I know there will be a special place in heaven for her, as well as in the hearts of those who have and who are yet to benefit from her outstanding, astonishing work.


Looking again through Facebook, I see she commented on almost every post I made, and while most people tire of news of other people's children, Jill was always ready with a friendly - and sometimes wry - comment when I posted news of my daughters. Her final post to me was about how tall my twins had grown. I only wish she were around to see them grow more.


My thoughts are with Jill's husband, children, twin sister and all those who knew and loved her.


Jill Saward

15 January 1965 - 5 January 2017. 


Make sure Jill's hard work continues by making a donation at




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