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Obituaries >

Obituary: Jill Saward

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Campaigner: Jill Saward (centre), takes part in a course in 1994 organised by West Mercia Police to show the effects of violent crime

Credit: pa

Campaigner: Jill Saward (centre), takes part in a course in 1994 organised by West Mercia Police to show the effects of violent crime

The Revd Gary Piper writes:
THE death on 5 January of Jill Saward (Jill Drake), aged 51, evinced in all those who loved her not only deep sadness but also feelings of pride for all she had achieved. How often do people make the front pages of most of the national newspapers because of the good they have done? Jill achieved this rare distinction.

Jill was born in Liverpool in 1965, half an hour before her identical twin sister, Sue. They were the third and fourth children of the Revd Michael and Mrs Jackie Saward. Although the family moved south to Beckenham, in Kent, the twins remained proud of their Liverpool heritage.

From Beckenham, the family moved to Fulham, in west London, and it was during this time, at a youth camp, aged 12, that Jill made a personal commitment to Jesus. It was a defining moment in her life. Her faith helped her to cope with the struggles that were to come, but also inspired her to work for the good of others.

In 1978 came the family’s move to Ealing. Jill finished her education and tried her hand at various jobs. Then, in 1986, her life changed for ever. Three men entered the Ealing vicarage, attacked her father and her boyfriend, and two of the intruders then raped Jill. The attack was headline news on television, radio, and in the national press.

Nobody can come through such a violent trauma unscathed. It was a terrible time for the whole family, but particularly for Jill, who endured many dark times. Could life ever be normal again?

Rape victims have the right to anonymity. Jill wanted to do something to aid those who had been raped, and to help the public and, particularly, the police and the judiciary realise how this hideous crime can destroy lives. To do this, Jill waived her right to remain anonymous. She was interviewed on TV and radio, speaking about all she had been through. In one interview (re-shown in a news bulletin), she told of how her Christian faith had enabled her to forgive her attackers.

Working with her friend Wendy Green, in 1990, she produced a book Rape: My story (published by Bloomsbury). She went on to become a rape and sexual-assault caseworker and a sexual-violence adviser. She spoke in schools and to university groups.

Jill now became a campaigner on many issues, including sexual violence, violence against women, forgiveness, justice, and the DNA database (Feature, 16 January 2009). She helped in the training of judges, nurses, and police forces in how to deal with rape victims. On her website, she asked the Church to speak out more forcefully about violence against women. She wrote: “Change is beginning to happen but within Christian circles this is quite slow. The time to act is now!” 

In 1993, she had married the journalist Gavin Drake, who remained a great support and encouragement to her. They had three sons, Myles, Rory, and Fergus. She was also involved in caring for her parents in their later years.

Jill’s was a life lived to the full, serving her Lord, her family, and countless others through her campaigning and counselling. The thoughts of many will be with her husband and sons, as well as her sisters, Sue and Rachel, and brother, Joe.

The prophet Micah wrote: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6.8). What better description could there be of Jill’s life?

Her funeral will take place at Lichfield Cathedral on 17 January at midday. Anyone wishing to make a donation in her memory is asked to give to the Cambrian Coast Evangelical Trust, Ehlers-Danlos Support UK, or the Merseyside Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre. 

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