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  • Barbara Copperthwaite

Stranger than fiction

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IT’S VERY easy to sit in judgement of someone. To criticise their life and smugly think: “I would never be so silly as to be fooled like that.” One of the things I have learned as a journalist, though, is to never judge, never jump to conclusions, but instead simply open myself up and really listen to what an interviewee is telling me.

Take Denise, a woman with whom I had a very long conversation the other day. She had been happily married to her husband for almost 40 years, he was a highly successful accountant, pillar of the community, a chairman of the board of governors at their local school, as well as being a devoted husband and father to their three children.

Then one day he stood in their hallway with a suitcase at his feet, and told her he was due in court the next day and would probably be imprisoned. He had stolen tens of thousands of pounds in order to fund a secret life of gambling. Poor Denise had had no idea (if you want to know more, her full story has been covered in the Daily Mail and Real People magazine).

I really related to her because although the actions and outcomes are utterly different, to some extent she reminded me of my Invisible heroine.

The fact is, when you love someone you trust them. You believe in them. And sometimes, even when the evidence is clear to others, you are too close to see it yourself. Did Harold Shipman’s wife know what he was up to, or did she think she was married to a pillar of the community? Does Rolf Harris’s wife believe she is standing by a paedophile or an innocent man? Of course we can never see into the reality of these relationships, and perhaps we can’t agree with the decisions made, but that doesn’t give us the right to stand in judgement over people whose lives have been shattered not through their own actions but by those of the person they love.

Denise admitted that one of the hardest things to cope with – on top of discovering that her life is a lie – is the criticism leveled at her: the comments of “did you really not realise?”

It just goes to show that Invisible really isn’t that far from the truth.

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