Annie: Out of the Ashes


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Annie: Out of the Ashes

Documentary in which a woman, who was adopted after her mother supposedly tried to kill her when she was young, tries to uncover the truth about her past.


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Transcript


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This programme contains some strong language.

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-PHONE RINGS

-'Thank you for calling

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'the London Fire And Emergency Planning Authority.

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'If your call is for an emergency please hang up and redial 999.'

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I was just wondering if you have any information

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from a fire in January 1986,

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I appreciate it's quite a long time ago.

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I was in a caravan fire.

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I was a baby, I was only a few weeks old.

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I was born into a Gypsy family.

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My mum was white,

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so was her husband, and I came out black.

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The story I was told was that my mum put me in a caravan

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and set light to it.

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So I guess she didn't want me around.

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After the fire, Annie was taken into care, and later adopted by a white,

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non-Gypsy family.

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-That's exciting, isn't it, guys?

-Yeah.

-A little road trip!

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Fascinated by her story and extraordinary resilience,

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I'm going to spend the next four months helping Annie learn more about where she came from.

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I want to look into my past.

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Will it impact my identity, my core values?

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I've had so many other things to take on board, adoption,

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being burnt, being mixed race.

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I feel like a bit of a blur,

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I don't feel like I'm part of any one group.

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'I'm very interested in any information you may have

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'about the original residents.'

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Someone rescued me, I don't know who.

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I've been led to believe that someone saw the fire,

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saw what happened, took me out of the caravan,

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and then put me in hospital.

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We want to see if it is possible to find out who rescued Annie.

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If I was to meet the person that saved me, I would be very overwhelmed.

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Because what do you say?

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You gave me life.

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Keep going, keep going, keep going!

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Last little bit!

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30-year-old Annie is a personal trainer

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and runs a gym with her fiance, Sam.

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Fitness, for me, has always been about adding value to my life.

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Can I find out where my limit is?

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I like feeling strong.

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-I'm looking forward to having this as a nice fireplace.

-Sounds good to me.

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Annie and Sam are in the process of setting up home together

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and are planning to get married next year.

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I like the lounge, we just need to get a lamp head.

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This is definitely the start of a new chapter.

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I hope we can have a family in the near future.

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That's why I'm interested in finding out more about my own history.

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How are you feeling about the whole thing over the next few weeks?

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I don't know. I haven't really let myself think of it.

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It sounds ridiculous now, after what we're about to do.

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At the moment, I'm just hoping I don't upset anyone.

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I'm a bit nervous, but appropriately nervous, I think.

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Because you don't know what to expect. I hope that it all...

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Yeah, I don't know, you almost don't want to let yourself hope for

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something really good, just in case it's, you know...

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You've probably never been in a better position, as well,

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in terms of the amount of people that actually care for you,

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and that are around you to actually put yourself in a position where

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there's going to be a bit of uncertainty.

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-So...

-I completely agree with that.

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Either way,

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you can fall a million ways and know that you're going to be fine.

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It's true, isn't it?

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That's a lovely thing to say.

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I've been practising that for a week!

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Hey, we could have a glass of wine at some point.

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I suppose you can't, because you're driving, but we can in life. I have so many questions for you.

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-Yes, we should actually.

-I'd love that.

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OK. One question I do need to ask, which is a difficult one.

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How did it feel when you were growing up,

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to know that the woman who gave birth to you wanted to kill you?

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I don't think any person with a happy,

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normal childhood would think that's an option,

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to do that to their child.

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So I kind of just felt bad for her.

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I don't know what kind of life she must have had.

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I was a baby. She didn't know who I was.

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She wasn't trying to kill me as a human being as I am, as a person.

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She didn't want me, for whatever reason.

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But you can't condone those things.

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Annie's made it clear to me that this isn't about finding long-lost family.

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It's about understanding the culture,

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characters and events that led to a fire which nearly killed her.

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And trying to find out who saved her.

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-You feeling all right?

-Yeah.

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The one person who holds some clues about Annie's past is her adoptive mum.

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What I've brought with me are official documents.

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I've never found the right time to introduce them.

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Annie might be quite cross with me,

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because I've kept them hidden for so many years.

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I don't know how she's going to react.

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Maggie already had two children of her own before adopting Annie.

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This is going to sound really soppy, but

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I found with both of my other two,

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there was an actual, physical bonding process,

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as in, I felt this thing. I cannot describe it.

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But it was physical. This is my child.

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And I'll do everything I can to look after this child.

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And Annie was probably, I think she was about 18 months,

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I thought, "This child needs me with her when she wakes up in the night,

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"when she is waking up with all these bandages on her and everything."

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And that was... I just thought, "I want to keep her."

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-That's lovely.

-So that's when we started the process.

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-Hiya.

-Hello. How are you?

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-I'm fine, how are you, my dear?

-I'm really good, thank you.

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-Are you going to make me one of these nice coffees, then, Annie?

-I will indeed.

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My relationship with my adoptive mum is very good, I would say.

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I'm very lucky to have a lady like her bring me up.

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So, you're going to have to show me the gym.

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-Did you bring your kit?

-Don't be silly!

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When did I last have gym kit?

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Shall we go in the living room?

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I grew up in a very happy house, and a very strong house,

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in a way that you will always be proud of who you are and...

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I definitely owe that to her.

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Keep your drink well away, please.

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Because these are originals, before the days of computers and all the rest of it.

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We should have probably got these documents out years ago.

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We did, Mum. We did.

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I didn't want to see them. It's not your fault.

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"Biddy describes herself as an Irish Gypsy.

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"She is approximately five foot six tall,

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"is well built, has dark hair,

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"and striking blue eyes."

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She's taller than me, then.

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"Biddy has been described as seeming to be quite intelligent,

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"and articulate, although illiterate."

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These attributes make her more human.

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"Her behaviour prior to Annie's birth would indicate that she

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"finds it difficult to place the needs of her child before her own.

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"Although this may have been related to her mental instability."

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What the hell does that mean?

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Annie, I don't know. I always tried to give you the truth,

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but as much as I thought was appropriate.

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It was widely suspected by both the Gypsy community and the social worker

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that Annie's birth mum left her alone in a caravan

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and set fire to it.

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Social services always said, "If we thought we could have grounds for

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"prosecution, we would be trying to prosecute, but we have no witnesses,

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"no proof of anything."

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-Yeah.

-But they didn't ever really believe that it was a total accident.

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-You feeling all right?

-Yeah, I am, it's just a lot to take in.

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I haven't really got much to say.

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Annie's birth mum kept the identity of the biological father

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a secret from everyone.

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Even before the fire,

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she'd already expressed her concerns about keeping Annie.

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"Biddy has on two occasions requested that Annie be placed for adoption

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"on the grounds that a mixed-race child, of uncertain parentage,

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"would not be accepted by the family

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"and that both mother and child would be ostracised.

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"She recognises that her infidelity is of a most serious nature."

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When Annie was 13 years old, she was shown a news report stating that her

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birth mother had died that year.

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"A 32-year-old caused a fire by dropping a cigarette

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"after falling asleep, managed to dial 999 for help."

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It's a very strange coincidence that she died through third-degree burns.

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The percentage that I've got myself.

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"After giving her address, she had said, 'I can't stop the fire.

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" 'My skin is burned. Save me, I can't stop.' "

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I didn't feel a huge loss in that way that I guess most people would.

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But I did feel like it was quite final

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in the way that if I ever want an answer, obviously,

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I'm never going to get it.

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I glued my hair today.

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Now I've got glue all over the other hair.

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So if you see big clumps of glue in my hair,

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it won't be glue colour, it will be...

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..like, just stuck-together hair.

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Just tell me, and I'll have to cut my fucking hair!

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Have you got your own hair?

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I've got a tiny bit, but I basically shaved it off,

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so it's pretty much...

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Annie's has a lifetime of surgery on her burns,

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and is currently considering another operation on her nose.

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How are you getting on?

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Yeah, really good. It feels tons better.

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That's gone pretty well, apart from the scarring.

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-Yeah.

-It looks a bit lumpy.

-Yeah.

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Over the years, my burns haven't really affected me terribly,

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but I do think I've engineered that.

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I remember a couple of times,

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a couple of kids at school said something,

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but, at the time, it didn't really bother me that much.

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I was very lucky I had a lot of good friends around.

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I think I might have kicked a boy in the shin

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after he'd said something rude.

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The keloid, like, the lumps here, have you seen other people with it,

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-and does it go down?

-It does tend to go down, yeah.

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-Does it really?

-Over time, yeah.

-Does it?

-Yeah, it does.

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Social services were originally holding out for an Afro-Caribbean family for Annie.

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Until they finally agreed to Maggie adopting her,

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she was still officially in care.

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There was a lot of time that the doctors wanted me to have lots

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of operations when I was younger.

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Because I was a child of the state and not actually belonging to any one person,

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to sort of stick in my corner, they were kind of, like,

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score, because you don't often get someone that's that badly burnt

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and alive. So they got to try out lots of operations.

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They wanted me to have my hairline moved forward.

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I wasn't convinced.

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It would have taken me out of time to see my friends, being at school,

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training. I was trampolining at the time.

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So a lot of operations I could have had, I didn't.

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I think what we've discussed before is to try and lengthen the nose,

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and bring the tip of the nose down.

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My mum made the right decision, I think,

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to decide to get me to keep living with how I looked, going to school,

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making friends, you know.

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I had to, more importantly,

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deal with looking how I do than trying to spend my whole life,

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especially the early years, trying to make it better.

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-See you soon, hopefully.

-See you.

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Getting on with things makes you just focus on,

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A, the things you want to do in life,

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and how you can cope in situations if problems arise.

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Could I have grown up with a lot more anger?

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Of course. That's the easy option, I think.

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To be quick to hate.

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But why waste your life? What a waste of a life!

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To be sad and angry, it would be ridiculous.

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There'd be no point in being saved at all.

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It's clear that the effort it's taken Annie to come this far in life

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has been huge.

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I can see why it's only now she's ready to delve deeper into

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the story behind her scars

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and learn more about the culture she was born into.

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Going back to your birth mum, and what you were told happened,

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what do you think would have been the thing that brought the most shame on the family?

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Was it your colour, do you think? Or the fact that she'd had an affair?

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My adoptive mum did mention that it would have been very difficult

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growing up being mixed-race...

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..in a Gypsy community.

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I know that that was part of it.

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But I don't know.

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I don't know.

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Annie has never mixed with Gypsies,

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and hasn't been on a caravan site since she was a baby.

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My adoptive mum made a huge effort

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to make sure we spoke about Travellers, Gypsies a lot

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in a way that the books I read,

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it was included in my upbringing.

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I don't want to pretend that I know huge amounts about Gypsy culture.

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Mainly because I haven't lived it.

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I'm meeting a guy called Joe Jones,

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who I was put in touch with through the Gypsy Council.

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So I'm looking forward to actually getting to chat to someone

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face-to-face, and ask all my questions.

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-Hello. Joseph?

-Yeah, I'm Joe.

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-Lovely to meet you.

-This is Josef. How are you?

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-Really good. How are you?

-Fine, thank you.

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The Gypsy Council act as spokespeople for Romanies and

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Travellers across the UK.

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The portrayal of Gypsies in the media seems very one-sided,

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and very, very shocking.

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They definitely seem to have picked out all of the harsher,

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scarier stories of Travellers.

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Brilliant, this is great.

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I always like that they've got a very strong culture, and look after one another

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and are, like, a big group.

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You could say that we lived a sheltered life.

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But then, we lived a life, the media and politicians, councillors,

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they all still believe in a 500-year-old myth.

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They don't realise that we're human beings, like anyone else.

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The only difference between us is that we like living

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in close family units, and we like to live in caravans.

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I want to pay my council tax.

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I want to pay income tax.

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I want to be a part of the community.

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But I also want to be a Gypsy.

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That's the bit they can't get.

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So what made you want to embark on this now?

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I was burnt in a fire when I was a baby, in a caravan fire.

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I nearly lost two children in a caravan fire.

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-Really?

-Yeah. My John boy and Kelly.

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-Oh, my gosh.

-It was quite common.

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Caravan fires in them days were open fires.

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-Right, OK.

-Yeah.

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-Yeah.

-You would have the doors open in your trailer.

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You only had one form of heating, and that was that.

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Then they went over to paraffin, which was quite explosive.

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How often would you say a caravan is set alight on purpose?

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Or would you say that...?

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The only time that a caravan is deliberately set alight

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is after the funeral.

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The community itself, to burn a caravan deliberately, no.

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I can't see that that would be... There wouldn't be any reason for it.

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So my birth mother, I was told,

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put me in a caravan, and set light to it.

0:15:440:15:47

No.

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Why would she do that?

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Because her husband was also Gypsy and he was white

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and I came out black.

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There's no Gypsy mother, or Irish Traveller mother, I know...

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They would rather run off with that chappy than do such a thing.

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Listen to me,

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I know the travelling women,

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they'd have gone off with an Afro-Caribbean, yeah,

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and had children by them and stuck by them

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and been dogmatised and vilified by their own community.

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There's no way in the world.

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I wouldn't believe that.

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Do you want to stop?

0:16:240:16:26

-What?

-Do you want to stop?

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No, it's fine. I'm not blaming anyone for it.

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No, I wouldn't believe that.

0:16:310:16:34

That's something I wouldn't believe.

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I've known one thing for ages.

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I now almost feel bad that I've...

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I've never blamed anyone, but imagine, like, you hear one thing, and then...

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I feel like an idiot.

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I feel, why would I not circle-dance around this story?

0:16:460:16:50

I normally question everything. Why would I not question that?

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It's all hearsay.

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You don't know the facts.

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If there was any evidence whatsoever, right,

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she would have been prosecuted.

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She would be in Holloway.

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She would have done a long time.

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In the 1980s there were an average

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of 2,000 caravan fires every year across the UK,

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many of which were fatal.

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Think of her now, think, poor thing, like, horrible.

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Is that what's upsetting you, your mum?

0:17:350:17:37

When I first realised that I thought it might not be deliberate, it

0:17:420:17:45

sort of knocked me for six a little bit.

0:17:450:17:47

Made me feel very... I was very shocked.

0:17:470:17:49

My first feeling was that I felt bad.

0:17:490:17:51

I felt really guilty. So realising that, I just felt this overwhelming

0:17:510:17:55

feeling of, "Oh, you know, like...

0:17:550:17:57

"Why wouldn't you give her a chance?"

0:17:570:18:00

I presumed everything I'd heard was gospel,

0:18:000:18:03

and I kept it in a little box and thought that was it

0:18:030:18:05

and just left it there, instead of logically thinking about it.

0:18:050:18:08

You know, who would want to harm someone in that manner?

0:18:080:18:12

It's unlikely. I felt like I should have made more of an effort and dug

0:18:120:18:15

deeper into what happened.

0:18:150:18:17

Although Joe Jones believes it was an accident,

0:18:200:18:23

he has seen mothers in similar situations being vilified

0:18:230:18:26

by the Gypsy community.

0:18:260:18:28

We want to know what kind of life Annie and her birth mum

0:18:280:18:32

might have had if Annie hadn't been taken into care.

0:18:320:18:35

So, I found out about this guy, Joe King, so he's part Romany Gypsy

0:18:350:18:40

and part black.

0:18:400:18:42

He grew up between two homes -

0:18:420:18:45

a home in a house and a caravan site.

0:18:450:18:48

So I'm really interested to meet him

0:18:480:18:50

and see how his life has been different.

0:18:500:18:53

-Hi, Joe.

-Hey.

0:18:590:19:01

Hello. Lovely to meet you.

0:19:010:19:03

You too. Have you ate a lot of Caribbean food?

0:19:030:19:06

-Not a great deal.

-This is going to be good for you, then.

0:19:060:19:10

I don't actually identify with being mixed race,

0:19:100:19:14

but not any more than I don't identify...

0:19:140:19:16

It's the same as being a girl, or...

0:19:160:19:17

It's just part of me, but I'm not going to be, like,

0:19:170:19:19

"Oh, I'm mixed race. I'd better have more rice and peas."

0:19:190:19:23

So you are also a Gypsy.

0:19:230:19:27

From which side, is it your mum?

0:19:270:19:28

My mum. My mum's full Romany.

0:19:280:19:31

-Yeah.

-My mum was one of 13.

0:19:310:19:34

So she got pregnant, she didn't tell any of the Gypsy side

0:19:340:19:38

of our families what colour the baby was going to be.

0:19:380:19:41

They'd probably never even seen a black person.

0:19:410:19:43

-Oh, really?

-In 1968.

0:19:430:19:45

-There was none.

-No.

0:19:450:19:47

And when I popped out, the first thing my nan said was,

0:19:470:19:51

"Don't bring that thing home."

0:19:510:19:53

-Oh, no.

-That was my introduction to Gypsy life.

0:19:530:19:57

Then racism, and everything else,

0:19:570:20:00

kind of got hold of my mum.

0:20:000:20:03

I was accepted by my side of the family

0:20:030:20:05

and I was accepted after a period of time.

0:20:050:20:08

But it was a constant struggle for my mum, and definitely for me,

0:20:080:20:12

having to kind of fight everywhere I went

0:20:120:20:14

and just being called names, like, we all know the names,

0:20:140:20:17

the kind of names that you get called.

0:20:170:20:20

-So my mum was married to another Gypsy.

-Right.

-They were both white, I came out black.

0:20:200:20:23

-She had an affair.

-Obviously, she had an affair, yeah.

0:20:230:20:27

They deal with cheating different to how we would deal with things.

0:20:270:20:30

We've moved on a bit, but we're talking 30-odd years ago.

0:20:300:20:33

-How old are you? 30?

-Mmm.

0:20:330:20:35

It's a man's world. Back then it was even more of a man's world.

0:20:350:20:38

It's OK for men to kind of do certain things, but not for women.

0:20:380:20:42

So the fact that your mum's had an affair, bang, that's one.

0:20:420:20:46

And the fact that it was an affair with a black person,

0:20:460:20:48

bringing him a black baby, I can only imagine.

0:20:480:20:51

-I can't even imagine...

-Really?

-No.

0:20:520:20:55

How hard that must have been for her.

0:20:550:20:57

She knows how tight-whipped and how tight-knit the Gypsy site is.

0:20:570:21:01

I think your mum would have probably been

0:21:010:21:04

the worst person ever on that site.

0:21:040:21:07

The fact that she has had an affair, and with a black person.

0:21:070:21:11

Joe's perspective has shown Annie the hostility her birth mother

0:21:180:21:22

might have faced from the community.

0:21:220:21:24

Someone under that much pressure

0:21:240:21:26

might well have resorted to extreme behaviour.

0:21:260:21:29

Maybe it was her idea of getting out of a troubled situation that she

0:21:300:21:35

thought she was in. And that was the option that she thought was the only

0:21:350:21:39

one that she could take. Which is horrible.

0:21:390:21:41

I feel terrible for her.

0:21:410:21:43

'I'm just calling because I'm interested in getting hold of some files.

0:21:490:21:53

'There was a caravan fire in January.'

0:21:530:21:55

Opinions on what might have happened on that night 30 years ago

0:21:550:21:58

have given Annie a greater understanding of the community.

0:21:580:22:02

Now we want to see what facts might be out there about the fire itself.

0:22:020:22:07

I think this is as close to pure fact as I'm going to get.

0:22:070:22:09

These archives hold historical records for the London Fire Brigade.

0:22:120:22:16

-Hi, Annie.

-Hi.

-I'm David, nice to meet you.

-Nice to meet you.

0:22:180:22:21

That covers every fire on the 4th of January.

0:22:210:22:24

-Brilliant.

-Is it scary?

-Definitely scary, yeah.

0:22:240:22:28

Hackney.

0:22:310:22:32

There's loads of ones of cars. What if it wasn't a caravan?

0:22:350:22:38

Here we go. This looks like it. There we go.

0:22:420:22:45

Sandy Lane, Mitcham, Surrey.

0:22:450:22:46

B Smith.

0:22:460:22:48

Oh, fuck! I'm really hot.

0:22:480:22:51

My name's on there.

0:22:530:22:54

SHE CRIES

0:22:550:22:57

Seeing all the names on there, it just makes it more, like,

0:23:020:23:06

I don't know... I don't know, I can't figure it out.

0:23:060:23:09

I want Sam here, though.

0:23:090:23:11

Just tell me what you want to do. Do you want to have a little...?

0:23:130:23:16

Do you want to stop the camera for a bit?

0:23:160:23:18

I don't really care, I just want to read it.

0:23:180:23:21

But I keep looking at it, and I'm not taking anything in.

0:23:210:23:24

Records are... can be about revelation.

0:23:240:23:27

You know. With stories becoming truth, or truth becoming stories.

0:23:270:23:32

Yeah. Approximate total number

0:23:320:23:34

who left the affected property because of the fire - two.

0:23:340:23:37

Annie always believed she was in the fire alone,

0:23:370:23:40

but this report clearly contradicts that.

0:23:400:23:43

Briddie and Biddy are both short for Bridget.

0:23:430:23:47

Was it her birth mum in there with her, or was it someone else?

0:23:470:23:51

Her being 45 when I was a baby doesn't make sense.

0:23:510:23:54

And in a newspaper report that explained her death,

0:23:540:23:57

she would have come in at about 37, 38.

0:23:570:24:00

That's a good ten, 12 years later than this.

0:24:020:24:05

Either that is wrong or this is wrong.

0:24:050:24:08

Now, look, I've got 100 questions.

0:24:080:24:10

"Supposed cause of fire...

0:24:100:24:12

"Unrecorded, pending recovery or otherwise."

0:24:130:24:16

Like, they said they don't know who saved me and that?

0:24:170:24:20

What does that mean?

0:24:200:24:22

-Do we know?

-I wish I knew.

0:24:220:24:24

-Do you want me to come over and have a look?

-Yeah.

0:24:240:24:27

The way these things work, as I understand them, is they would be...

0:24:270:24:31

they're reports filled out by the Fire Brigade.

0:24:310:24:33

The terms within them, I'm afraid, I genuinely don't know what they mean.

0:24:330:24:37

You would probably have to ask the firefighters themselves.

0:24:370:24:40

There is one name on the report that we hope will lead us to the truth,

0:24:400:24:44

the station officer in charge of putting out the fire.

0:24:440:24:48

It's good that I've got a name.

0:24:480:24:50

'Please say the name of the person or department you wish to contact.'

0:24:500:24:53

JK Backers.

0:24:530:24:55

'Was that Craig Prescott?'

0:24:550:24:58

-No.

-'Please say the name of another person or department.'

0:24:580:25:02

-Merton Fire Department.

-'Was that Mark Jones?'

0:25:020:25:05

No. It was Merton.

0:25:060:25:09

'Please hold for the operator.'

0:25:090:25:11

'Saffron, server support team.'

0:25:110:25:12

Hi, I'm just calling because I've recently gone through some records

0:25:120:25:17

and a gentleman's name, JK Backers, came up.

0:25:170:25:21

I was wondering if he's still working for you, or you know of him.

0:25:210:25:26

'No, he's not on the system.'

0:25:260:25:29

Sorry for being a pain, it's just that it says that he did work for you,

0:25:290:25:32

and he's on the records.

0:25:320:25:34

'No, I can't see nothing on the system for him.'

0:25:340:25:38

OK.

0:25:380:25:39

I'm not sure how to get hold of him.

0:25:490:25:51

There's got to be another way, but I can't quite think now.

0:25:510:25:54

I don't think I'm thinking very clearly at the moment.

0:25:540:25:57

The fire was on an unauthorised caravan site.

0:26:010:26:05

Sandy Lane? This has got to be it.

0:26:050:26:07

I've been here before.

0:26:070:26:08

It was a temporary stopping place that's now been built on,

0:26:110:26:14

but we want to see if anyone in the area might remember it.

0:26:140:26:18

I haven't seen any now, in the years I've been here.

0:26:190:26:21

I've never really heard anyone speaking about any either.

0:26:230:26:26

But I know, you hear people speaking about the past,

0:26:260:26:29

that there was a lot of Travellers around.

0:26:290:26:31

Hello. I've just got a very random question for you.

0:26:330:26:36

How long have you been here? How long has this been here?

0:26:360:26:38

-The garage has been here, oh, about 50 years.

-50 years?

0:26:380:26:43

-Amazing.

-I've actually been here... I'm 59, I've been here 45.

0:26:430:26:48

45. Amazing.

0:26:480:26:50

Do you know if there was any ever sort of caravan, like,

0:26:500:26:53

Gypsy traveller sites on Sandy Lane or around this area?

0:26:530:26:57

I've never known one in Sandy Lane.

0:26:570:26:58

-Literally round the corner?

-No.

0:26:580:27:00

-Never?

-Not that I'd...

-You would know. It literally would have been around the corner.

0:27:000:27:05

That's literally around the corner, yeah.

0:27:050:27:07

It seems the site of the fire was so transitory,

0:27:070:27:10

that it was barely even noticed or remembered by locals.

0:27:100:27:14

What do you mean, I was burnt in a caravan, and there's no bloody caravan?

0:27:140:27:17

What the fuck? Literally, what the flying fuck!

0:27:170:27:19

I feel like I'm, like, Calamity Jane.

0:27:190:27:22

I feel like I'm being stupid.

0:27:220:27:24

-I don't think you are. We're confused as well.

-I don't get it.

0:27:240:27:27

I just need something to hold on to here. This is so fucking weird.

0:27:280:27:32

Frustrated by all the dead ends,

0:27:460:27:48

Annie wants to press on with

0:27:480:27:50

learning more about the Gypsy community.

0:27:500:27:52

Hi. Hello.

0:27:520:27:55

-Alvey, I'm Annie.

-Alvey.

0:27:550:27:56

-Lovely to meet you.

-Nice to meet you.

0:27:560:27:59

Thank you so much for having me here.

0:27:590:28:01

Joe Jones has invited us to a caravan site in Kent where they teach people

0:28:020:28:07

about Gypsy history.

0:28:070:28:09

Basically, what we're trying to do is change people's mind-set on Gypsies and Travellers.

0:28:090:28:13

That's basically what we're all about.

0:28:130:28:15

And also, keeping the old ways alive.

0:28:150:28:16

-Yeah.

-Because if you don't know where you've come from,

0:28:160:28:20

how do you know where you're going?

0:28:200:28:21

-Can I have a little poke around?

-Yeah.

-Look.

0:28:220:28:26

They're so nice.

0:28:260:28:27

Do you feel in any way like a Gypsy yourself?

0:28:270:28:31

I can identify with being part Gypsy

0:28:320:28:35

in the way that it's always been part of my story, if you like.

0:28:350:28:39

The children would sleep underneath, in the old days.

0:28:390:28:42

And there was a seat this side and a seat that side.

0:28:420:28:46

And then you done all the cooking on the fire.

0:28:460:28:49

Everything was done on that fire in the winter.

0:28:490:28:52

My mum's always made comments, growing up, about me being a Gypsy.

0:28:520:28:56

Little things I used to do.

0:28:560:28:57

But is this nature, is it nurture?

0:28:570:28:59

I don't... I'm really interested in that, always have been.

0:28:590:29:02

Annie's birth mum was an Irish Traveller

0:29:020:29:05

who had married into a Romany Gypsy family.

0:29:050:29:09

I was led to believe that I would have been rejected by the community,

0:29:090:29:12

the Gypsy community, because I was black.

0:29:120:29:15

Non-Gypsy people would actually believe that.

0:29:150:29:17

But in ourselves, we know that's not true.

0:29:170:29:21

We wouldn't reject any dark-skinned children, no.

0:29:210:29:24

It's impossible.

0:29:240:29:26

See this woman here.

0:29:260:29:27

-Yeah.

-She's a very dark woman, coal black, she was.

0:29:270:29:30

Yeah, her hair looks kind of Afro.

0:29:300:29:32

Yeah. That's my granny.

0:29:320:29:34

-Really?

-That's my dad's mum.

0:29:340:29:36

-No way.

-Yeah.

0:29:360:29:37

We originated from India.

0:29:380:29:40

So it runs through our genetics.

0:29:410:29:44

How do you class yourself, if you understand what I mean?

0:29:440:29:46

If someone said, "Oh, where are you from?" it depends how sort of...

0:29:460:29:50

how much I fancy telling a person on the day, if I'm honest.

0:29:500:29:54

It's never something that I don't tell people because I'm embarrassed,

0:29:540:29:57

it's just always something I would...

0:29:570:29:59

People are always asking me questions. "What happened to your face? You look tanned.

0:29:590:30:03

"Oh, you're black. Oh, you're Irish. Oh, you're Gypsy, but you live here.

0:30:030:30:07

"Oh, but all your family are white. You're black." You know what I mean?

0:30:070:30:09

So many little bits and bobs.

0:30:090:30:12

If you're black, white, pink, purple, whatever colour you are,

0:30:120:30:14

you should be proud of what you are.

0:30:140:30:17

And them burns on your face is nothing.

0:30:170:30:20

It's what's here that's the main thing.

0:30:200:30:22

-Yeah.

-We all carry scars one way or another.

0:30:220:30:25

How do you see us?

0:30:260:30:27

How do I see you?

0:30:270:30:29

It just feels, honestly, it feels really normal.

0:30:290:30:32

I feel like I've known you for ages. I feel really relaxed and...

0:30:320:30:35

That's how you should be.

0:30:350:30:36

Of course, yeah, it should be like that.

0:30:360:30:38

Most Gypsy people, right,

0:30:380:30:40

have always had prejudice against them, one way or another.

0:30:400:30:45

So, as us being Gypsies, right,

0:30:470:30:51

we couldn't be prejudiced against anyone.

0:30:510:30:53

Because we've had it so much against us.

0:30:550:30:58

I found the whole community very family orientated.

0:31:010:31:04

Which was really nice.

0:31:040:31:06

Very warm. Very inclusive.

0:31:060:31:08

You know, why wouldn't you want to take those values with you?

0:31:090:31:13

We're still unclear about the identity of the other person in the fire with Annie,

0:31:160:31:20

the woman listed as being 45.

0:31:200:31:22

So we want to see if it was reported in any local papers.

0:31:220:31:26

-Which particular year?

-'86.

-OK.

0:31:260:31:30

-Excellent, thank you. Thank you very much.

-You're welcome.

0:31:300:31:33

Police crackdown, no...

0:31:360:31:38

God, this is horrible.

0:31:400:31:41

You want to find something, but then you don't want to find anything.

0:31:430:31:46

"Baby saved from blaze.

0:31:500:31:52

"A six-week-old baby and her grandmother were taken to

0:31:520:31:56

"St George's Hospital, Tooting, after a fire destroyed their caravan

0:31:560:32:00

"on a site in Sandy Lane, Mitcham, on Saturday evening.

0:32:000:32:03

"It is believed the fire started when a gas heater set alight two cushions

0:32:030:32:08

"while Annie and 45-year-old Briddie were asleep."

0:32:080:32:12

It says grandma, so it is a grandma.

0:32:120:32:14

So she was in the fire as well, so why do I think it's something else?

0:32:140:32:17

Annie had always been told that her mother put her in a caravan alone

0:32:190:32:24

and set light to it deliberately.

0:32:240:32:26

Finding out her grandmother was in there with her changes everything.

0:32:260:32:30

Why would I be led to believe another way?

0:32:310:32:34

Very strange. Unless that's what people thought.

0:32:370:32:40

But why would they think that? Who would come to that conclusion?

0:32:400:32:44

It's definitely made me think more about any story that I've been given.

0:32:450:32:49

I have to take things into my own hands.

0:32:490:32:51

I've always known there's three parts of a story, there's,

0:32:510:32:54

you know, what he said, what she said,

0:32:540:32:56

and the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

0:32:560:32:59

We soon found out that Annie's grandmother died in 2005,

0:33:000:33:05

taking her tale of the fire to the grave.

0:33:050:33:08

I feel a bit sad, because I probably should have done it sooner.

0:33:080:33:11

I'm a bit sad. I should have done it sooner.

0:33:110:33:14

I should have done it.

0:33:140:33:16

Training has always been my time.

0:33:250:33:28

It's just a little bit of time to be on your own, I think.

0:33:280:33:30

A bit of thinking time, you know.

0:33:310:33:33

It's been a bit of a rollercoaster. It's been very up and down.

0:33:370:33:41

And my emotions have been a bit, like, pulled back.

0:33:410:33:44

The facts is always what is needed to make yourself feel better.

0:33:440:33:48

'JK Backers. I don't know, maybe try John or James.'

0:33:480:33:55

With the caravan site long gone,

0:33:550:33:57

her birth mother and grandmother both dead,

0:33:570:34:00

tracking down the firefighter is our last hope

0:34:000:34:03

of reaching anyone who was there at the time.

0:34:030:34:05

Would you be able to find out if he did once work for you? It was in the '80s.

0:34:050:34:09

'He's not still working for us.'

0:34:090:34:11

Wanting to take a break from it all,

0:34:230:34:25

Annie's visiting her adoptive sister in Swansea.

0:34:250:34:29

My sister, Jo, is three years older than me.

0:34:290:34:32

If I've got a problem or something's upset me, I can always...

0:34:320:34:36

I know I can call her. And she always gives me great advice.

0:34:360:34:39

-Get your feet wet.

-Oh, yeah!

0:34:410:34:43

I love wearing wellies. It sounds really stupid, but I feel more free.

0:34:430:34:46

Yeah. You will sleep well tonight. Sea air, in the lungs.

0:34:460:34:50

I've been a bit anxious, so this has made me feel really relaxed.

0:34:500:34:54

This whole thing feels like I've been sticking my hand in,

0:34:550:34:59

you know, like hot water...

0:34:590:35:02

You know what I mean? You don't know what you're going to get back.

0:35:020:35:04

You've never liked water, though, have you?

0:35:040:35:07

I remember when you were really young

0:35:070:35:09

and you had all those dressings, do you remember?

0:35:090:35:12

-Yeah.

-On your head and stuff.

0:35:120:35:14

And they used to bathe them off you.

0:35:140:35:18

So no wonder you didn't like water.

0:35:180:35:20

Not me, I love it.

0:35:200:35:21

-I'm like a fish.

-I know you are.

0:35:210:35:23

You've always kind of defied the odds, though.

0:35:260:35:28

I mean, Mum's always said the nurses and doctors

0:35:280:35:31

didn't expect you to even survive

0:35:310:35:33

your first six months after the fire, did they?

0:35:330:35:36

They said you wouldn't be able to write and hold a pencil,

0:35:360:35:39

because your hands were so scarred and damaged.

0:35:390:35:41

But you've done all of that.

0:35:410:35:44

You know? You're stronger than you think.

0:35:440:35:47

And it's good that you're doing this now,

0:35:470:35:49

because you're always going to have a natural curiosity about your heritage.

0:35:490:35:52

Yeah, the more and more I do it, the more and more I know I'm doing the right thing.

0:35:520:35:55

Like, just to understand a bit more.

0:35:550:35:57

-It's actually given me a little bit more confidence, which is really strange.

-It's a big deal.

0:35:570:36:01

And I think you need to be in a certain stable...

0:36:010:36:03

You and Sam are engaged, you've got your house,

0:36:030:36:08

your life is secure,

0:36:080:36:09

and I think you shouldn't regret doing it now

0:36:090:36:12

and not doing it earlier. This is the right time, I think.

0:36:120:36:16

Yeah.

0:36:160:36:17

Push. Good. And again.

0:36:270:36:29

PHONE RINGS

0:36:290:36:31

Hi there, I was wondering if a man called JK Backers works for you.

0:36:310:36:36

'Why do you need to get hold of him?'

0:36:360:36:37

It's regarding me and my family,

0:36:370:36:39

I just wondered could he answer some questions that I'm not getting from the form.

0:36:390:36:43

Thank you very much.

0:36:430:36:45

After weeks of searching for the elusive JK Backers,

0:36:450:36:48

we've finally got a lead.

0:36:480:36:50

"Hi, Annie. I was informed you are trying to get in touch with JK Backers.

0:37:050:37:09

"As luck would have it, I live opposite the daughter of one of his old colleagues.

0:37:090:37:13

"I have spoken with John today and he's happy for you to..."

0:37:130:37:16

Oh, wow. "..for you to contact him."

0:37:160:37:19

Amazing.

0:37:190:37:21

I wasn't sure... I thought he would be dead.

0:37:210:37:24

That's so rude.

0:37:240:37:27

I think I've got used to being, like...

0:37:270:37:29

Oh, that's really good.

0:37:290:37:31

I'm happy with that.

0:37:310:37:33

I needed some happiness.

0:37:350:37:36

I've got this opportunity to actually go and speak to someone

0:37:410:37:45

that was there, that knows about it,

0:37:450:37:46

that's willing, as well.

0:37:460:37:48

I'm hoping he'll remember a bit about the day.

0:37:480:37:50

Obviously, I'm not pinning my hopes on it.

0:37:500:37:53

Look at me, I'm lying, I am.

0:37:530:37:55

I'm already like, "Please, remember!"

0:37:550:37:56

We are hoping that the man in charge of putting out the fire that burnt Annie

0:38:140:38:18

will finally give us a reliable first-hand account of what happened.

0:38:180:38:22

Ding-dong.

0:38:230:38:25

Hello. Hello, John?

0:38:270:38:29

Very nice to see you, come in.

0:38:290:38:31

Thank you. Lovely to meet you.

0:38:310:38:33

I brought you a few little bits.

0:38:330:38:35

I know it's very silly, but I didn't want to come empty-handed.

0:38:350:38:37

-That's very nice of you.

-It's just biscuits and some pastries in there.

0:38:370:38:41

I don't know if you eat that kind of thing.

0:38:410:38:43

I treat myself most mornings.

0:38:430:38:47

-Good. Thank you so much for having me.

-Oh, lovely, you can...

0:38:470:38:50

-Am I sitting here?

-Yes, absolutely.

-Brilliant, thank you.

0:38:500:38:53

Right. Right, this is a Home Office form.

0:38:540:38:58

30 years later, you've come up with this report.

0:38:580:39:02

And sort of surprised me.

0:39:020:39:04

Sorry. Sorry, I do really appreciate you talking.

0:39:040:39:06

I don't want you to feel like I'm grilling.

0:39:060:39:09

It's fine, it's a delight, to be quite honest with you.

0:39:090:39:11

I'm just amazed that you actually survived,

0:39:110:39:15

because in this section here -

0:39:150:39:17

"Unrecorded, pending recovery or otherwise,"

0:39:170:39:20

because it was expected, by all accounts,

0:39:200:39:23

that you would not survive more than 24 hours, possibly two days.

0:39:230:39:27

-Really?

-Absolutely, yeah.

0:39:270:39:28

So these...

0:39:280:39:31

Did you write this?

0:39:310:39:32

Yes, this is my report. All this is my report, yes.

0:39:320:39:35

Your grandmother was taken to hospital with burned hands,

0:39:350:39:38

and you was taken elsewhere,

0:39:380:39:39

Roehampton burns unit, that's where you went.

0:39:390:39:42

Did you see the grandmother?

0:39:430:39:45

No. I did not see yourself or your grandmother.

0:39:450:39:49

So they weren't on the scene when you were there?

0:39:490:39:52

As I arrived, the whole trailer van was alight,

0:39:520:39:57

and you had already, with your grandmother, vacated the van

0:39:570:40:01

and, obviously, been moved to hospital.

0:40:010:40:05

Because the fire was so severe and we couldn't establish initial cause,

0:40:050:40:10

what I did was I asked for the attendance

0:40:100:40:14

of the fire investigation team.

0:40:140:40:17

The results of the official investigation have been lost,

0:40:170:40:20

but John Backers believes that the newspaper report

0:40:200:40:23

about the cause of the fire is likely to be correct.

0:40:230:40:27

A cutting from the local newspaper, at the time of the incident...

0:40:270:40:31

"It is believed the fire started when a gas heater set light to cushions

0:40:310:40:34

"while Annie and 45-year-old Briddie were asleep."

0:40:340:40:38

That information is normally obtained from the local fire station.

0:40:390:40:42

There's no way of knowing who took Annie to hospital,

0:40:430:40:46

but John's got an idea about who saved her life.

0:40:460:40:49

What I suspect happened, because your grandmother's hands were burnt,

0:40:500:40:54

she obviously, in my view, obviously lifted you,

0:40:540:40:58

and carried you out from the van.

0:40:580:41:00

I always think the simplest answer is usually true,

0:41:040:41:07

but sometimes, I guess, it's best to ask the questions.

0:41:070:41:10

I just think there it makes sense.

0:41:100:41:11

It's her hands, I think she got me out of there.

0:41:110:41:14

Unfortunately, it would appear that your grandmother is no longer alive.

0:41:140:41:17

So, really, assuming she would tell you the truth,

0:41:170:41:21

actually, we'd be able to give you that information you're desperately sort of looking for.

0:41:210:41:26

Which is a shame, from your perspective.

0:41:260:41:29

I wish I could actually say more than that.

0:41:290:41:32

No, I'm sitting here, that's more than enough.

0:41:320:41:34

I'm so glad that I get to speak to you, as well.

0:41:340:41:37

I keep crying, I'm so sorry.

0:41:370:41:39

Oh...

0:41:390:41:40

This is... This is...

0:41:420:41:44

Brings back nasty memories.

0:41:450:41:47

Even I get upset about certain issues and...

0:41:490:41:54

-Thank you so much.

-It's not an issue, you know,

0:41:540:41:58

always willing to help if I possibly can.

0:41:580:42:00

That's what we're here for, isn't it, really?

0:42:000:42:03

A teapot.

0:42:030:42:04

I'm going to get a teapot for the house.

0:42:040:42:07

I've done a count one day, I think it's approximately 20 cups of tea

0:42:070:42:11

-I drink a day.

-Nice. I love a cup of tea.

0:42:110:42:14

It was so good, Sam, he was so nice.

0:42:140:42:16

Like, he's a good guy, you know.

0:42:160:42:19

A good guy.

0:42:190:42:20

He's kind of inkled an invitation to the wedding.

0:42:260:42:29

So, yeah. There we go, then. Him and his wife are coming.

0:42:290:42:33

It's important for me to speak to John, knowing the man that wrote it,

0:42:340:42:38

it makes me feel I can fully believe the report,

0:42:380:42:41

and that can back up thinking it was more of an accident.

0:42:410:42:44

It's completely changed everything I thought, growing up.

0:42:450:42:50

You know, just a normal, sane person would do what was told, but then,

0:42:500:42:56

the hard bit was more, why was that implied?

0:42:560:42:58

Annie is still frustrated by how the story she grew up with came about.

0:43:120:43:17

She wants to get Joe Jones's take on why such a damning accusation

0:43:170:43:21

would have been spread.

0:43:210:43:22

-Hello, Annie. How are you?

-I'm good, how are you?

0:43:220:43:26

People will exaggerate something if they don't know anything about it.

0:43:260:43:30

And people hear half a story, then they pass half a story on,

0:43:300:43:35

and then someone adds something else to that story.

0:43:350:43:37

-Chinese whispers.

-And it becomes very dramatic.

0:43:370:43:40

You know, we were good storytellers.

0:43:400:43:43

Our parents, our grandparents were good storytellers.

0:43:430:43:45

They used to keep us kids amused for hours on end.

0:43:450:43:48

And as you get older,

0:43:480:43:50

you realise that that wasn't quite what they said.

0:43:500:43:53

There was a little bit of truth in there. It wasn't quite like that.

0:43:530:43:57

We'll never know the absolute truth of what happened that night,

0:43:580:44:02

but we finally unearthed enough for Annie to put the story to rest.

0:44:020:44:06

See you soon.

0:44:060:44:08

The incident in your life,

0:44:080:44:09

either you let that destroy you, yeah?

0:44:090:44:14

Or you use it, because you seem confident enough.

0:44:140:44:19

-I want you to move on.

-Yeah.

0:44:190:44:23

I think the stories we grow up with shape who we are, our new beliefs,

0:44:260:44:32

which we take on, and build our character,

0:44:320:44:34

then it builds our own identity.

0:44:340:44:36

Because I didn't have any background or people that were linked to me,

0:44:360:44:39

I was able to build my own ideas of myself

0:44:390:44:42

and build beliefs around myself.

0:44:420:44:44

Now, after everything that's happened,

0:44:440:44:46

I'm certain that that was the right way for me to go.

0:44:460:44:48

I don't need, necessarily, to be part of any pack, this group,

0:44:480:44:51

or that group, or this group.

0:44:510:44:53

I am my character.

0:44:530:44:55

Annie now has a much deeper understanding

0:44:580:45:00

of why her birth mum struggled to cope with her arrival.

0:45:000:45:04

Despite the absence of hard facts about the cause of the fire,

0:45:060:45:10

what we have found out has allowed Annie to make up her own mind.

0:45:100:45:13

In light of everything that happened, the bet's in my birth mum's favour now.

0:45:140:45:18

I'm really glad now that I've done this.

0:45:190:45:21

Never judge a book by its cover.

0:45:210:45:23

Never just presume. Give everyone a chance.

0:45:230:45:26

Everyone.

0:45:260:45:28

MUSIC: Grow by Frances

0:45:290:45:32

# Oh, so you know it all

0:45:410:45:46

# Then it's gone

0:45:460:45:49

# Grow, grow

0:45:490:45:52

# You know I'm here holding on

0:45:520:45:55

# Tying up your loose ends

0:45:560:45:59

# And your drifting esteem

0:45:590:46:04

# Grow, grow

0:46:040:46:07

# If you never try, you'll never know... #

0:46:070:46:09

Annie has grown up believing that her severe facial scarring is the result of her Irish Traveller mother trying to kill her by setting fire to the caravan in which Annie was sleeping. Could she have been driven by a fear of being ostracised by the community, having had an affair and given birth to a mixed-race baby?

Annie was adopted, and 30 years later, she wants to investigate her past. Armed with just a few names and dates from the original social services documents concerning her adoption, Annie is determined to find people who know the truth of what happened that night in 1986.

Annie was adopted by a white family. Her adoptive mother taught her there was nothing she couldn't do. But she felt her identity was a 'blur' - part Afro-Caribbean, part Traveller, part white. Annie has had no contact with the Gypsy community and is desperate to understand what it was within the culture that might have caused her birth mother to take such extreme measures. Was it the colour of Annie's skin? That she was the product of an affair? Or both?

In a meeting with representatives from the Gypsy Council to find out about Gypsy culture, a shocking revelation causes Annie's investigation to change direction. Did her mother really do it? Or was she simply blamed for an accidental caravan fire by her outraged community? Supported by her fiance and her adopted family, Annie won't give up until she tracks down the people who can give her the truth.