A year after two of their daughters lost their lives in Vietnam, a Sheffield couple has vowed to find out the truth behind the sisters’ deaths.
Beth Anderson, 24, and Izzy Squire, 19, were travelling in South East Asia when they died in mysterious circumstances on February 26 last year.
The half-sisters, from Endcliffe, were on a day trip to a popular waterfall when they drowned in fast-moving water, along with a friend, Christian Sloan, 25.
Their parents David Squire and Tracy Dodd have endured a year of emotional turmoil trying to accept the loss. But they have also had to deal with the frustration of not knowing exactly how their daughters died.
Speaking exclusively to The Star this week, they said new information had recently come to light in the investigation into what happened in Vietnam.
And despite almost complete silence from the authorities in South East Asia they are determined to get the full story.
“We will find out the truth,” said Tracy.
"It’s like someone stabbing you in the heart with a knife"
What should you do on the anniversary of a loved one’s death?
That’s the impossible question facing David Squire and Tracy Dodds today.
Tomorrow marks a year since they lost two of their daughters, Beth Anderson and Izzy Squire, who died while travelling in Vietnam. Tracy was mum to both, while David was step-dad to Beth and dad to Izzy.
The couple, from Rustlings Road, have spent the past 12 months in disbelief, dealing with the waves of shock and trauma that accompany the grieving process.
But there has also been frustration. A year on and they still do not know exactly what happened to Beth and Izzy.
Media reports at the time suggested they were taking part in a dangerous activity such as zip-lining, or that they had wandered off from a tour group and were with an unauthorised guide.
David and Tracy knew their girls were sensible and would not have taken risks, but an almost total lack of communication from the Vietnamese authorities has made it difficult to find out the truth.
Now, as the first anniversary of the tragedy approaches, new details have given them hope that the truth will come out.
“Information has come to light that contradicts the initial media reports made about the events,” said David, who with Tracy runs digital design agency DESQ.
“They in turn were quite contradictory at the time. None of that, it appears, actually happened.”
The sisters died at Datanla waterfall, a popular tourist spot in the Da Lat region of Vietnam, which David described as ‘where Center Parcs meets Lake Windemere’.
Their bodies, along with that of friend Christian Sloan, 25, were recovered downstream from the waterfall.
New information received by South Yorkshire Police suggests that claims the three were not with a qualified guide were wide of the mark.
“They went on an official tour with an organised company. They hadn’t gone off and done something they shouldn’t have done,” said Tracy.
“The rubbish that they had gone off where they shouldn’t have done and off the guided path just wasn’t true.”
David added: “The area is considered to be touristy and almost tame. If people want to get to the wilderness it’s not the place to go.”
The police are acting on behalf of the South Yorkshire Coroner’s Office, which is trying to get enough information about the incident to hold an inquest.
But the coroner has to deal with a chain that includes the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the National Crime Agency, and finally the Vietnamese authorities.
“We had an interim report from the Vietnamese authorities after about four weeks,” said Tracy. “They sent some photos that were just from the papers.
“Since then we have not heard anything from Vietnam. That’s the frustrating thing, and that has been the frustrating thing for South Yorkshire Police as well.”
The family has nothing but praise for the police, but David and Tracy struggle to hide their annoyance at a perceived lack of urgency from Government agencies.
As the anniversary of their death arrives they are left trying to grieve for their daughters without knowing what happened to them.
Tracy said: “This month has been like a countdown. It’s strange, because Sunday is the date, but for me it will be Friday, because I was getting ready for work when I got a phonecall.
“Why should it be any more significant than any other day - because they are still not here. They won’t be here on Saturday and they won’t be here on Monday.”
The details of that day in February last year still stand out for David and Tracy, and the emotions return time and time again.
“It’s about waves and wounds and scars,” said David. “The waves still happen. Less frequently, but because they are unexpected the feeling is still as powerful.”
“It’s like someone stabbing you in the heart with a knife,” added Tracy.
And there is a conflict for the couple between trying to move on while also keeping hold of all the small memories and moments that made their daughters who they were.
Beth and Izzy’s ashes are kept on their parents’ mantelpiece, and trinkets have been added through the year to create what is essentially a shrine to the two women.
David compared the feeling to ‘going towards a fire that you know is going to burn you, but you are attracted to it and you want to be there’.
He said: “Their rooms are the same. We have not done anything with them.
“It almost feels like time has stopped. It’s like a ghost running around.
“In the first week I wanted to sell the house and go somewhere else. Now everything is connected and I don’t want to let that connection go, even though it’s incredibly painful.”
Tracy has another daughter, 26-year-old Molly, who lives in London. She was due to meet Beth and Izzy in Vietnam, and had booked her ticket shortly before she found out they had died.
“It’s very different for her,” said David.
“She’s the oldest. Suddenly at the age of 26 she has become an only child. She was going to go travelling and was supposed to fly out to meet them.”
Traditional family occasions might be compared to the anniversary of a death in terms of the emotional impact they could carry.
But for David and Tracy this is not the case.
“The anniversary of anyone’s death is different to Christmas or birthdays. For both of them we had a birthday party and invited friends, and had cake,” said David.
“There’s a tradition and form to it.
“Their remains have sat on the mantelpiece and we don’t really want them to go anywhere else for the foreseeable future. It’s not like there’s a set ceremony that you do when you remember someone’s death.
“The hardest thing is that process - how long does it take to find out what happened?”
To try to deal with the grief, David started a blog, at www.davidsquire.co.uk. He posts about his emotions, his mental state, and his memories of Beth and Izzy.
This, along with help from the Assist Trauma Care charity, has gone some way towards helping. But David believes there is a misconception that at some point you ‘get over it and move on’.
“I rarely remember them in a way that doesn’t upset me,” he said. “It’s very difficult to see them as a memory. We are not at the ‘cherish the memories’ point.
“A year seems like a long time but it also doesn’t at all. It’s a disbelief of the permanence of this which is still there from day one.”
Tomorrow will undoubtedly be difficult for the family, the same as every other day since Beth and Izzy died. But they can take small comfort in the recent progress in the investigation into what happened.
“We will find out,” said David. “It’s evident from the information that the police are uncovering.”
Detective chief inspector Steve Whittaker, who is overseeing the investigation into Beth and Izzy’s deaths, said: “South Yorkshire Police are currently working to gather as much information as possible that will inform and assist Her Majesty’s coroner in a further coroner’s inquest.
“This is a tragic incident that has seen the loss of three young lives in terrible circumstances.
“Both families concerned continue to receive support from dedicated officers during this incredibly difficult time. Alongside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the National Crime Agency, who both have staff in the far east, we will continue to assist the authorities in Vietnam in whatever way we can, to gather information which could assist the coroner.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We continue to provide support to the families of three British people following their deaths near Da Lat, Vietnam in February 2016.”
Compassionate and caring
Beth had a degree in fashion marketing and promotion, and had lived in London before moving back to Sheffield to save up to go travelling.
Her parents called her ‘amazingly caring, very individual, very intuitive and creative’.
“She had a very distinct dress sense,” they said. “All her friends wear pom poms in celebration of her.
“She was very political. Very compassionate and bothered about the environment. She read a lot and she slept a lot.
“She was held in very high esteem by her close friends.
“They were devastated when she died.”
A real character...the life and soul
Izzy had taken a gap year after her A-levels, and was supposed to start a degree in geography at the University of Sheffield in September 2016.
Inspired by her half-sister, she had also saved up to go travelling, but had sorted out her student accommodation and was looking forward to her first year.
She was also an amateur eventer and would miss her horse when she was away.
“She was very mature for her age,” he parents said. “Probably the most mature out of the three of them. And she basically never shut up.
“She was a real character. People would gravitate to her.
“She was the life and soul of the party.”