true crime

Joanne was visiting her daughter's grave when a fight broke out. 11 days later, she was dead.

June 3, 2017. Joanne Rand was sitting alone with her grief in High Wycombe, west of London, taking a moment to rest on a sun-soaked bench after visiting her daughter’s grave.

It was a fatal case of wrong place at the wrong time for the 47-year-old dementia nurse.

At around 4:50pm, she became the hapless victim of an acid attack, after a scuffle broke out nearby. Attempting to wrest a bicycle from another man, 19-year-old Xeneral Webster threatened him with bottle of sulphuric acid. In a panic, the man knocked it from his hand, sending a spray of the corrosive liquid across Joanne’s face, arms, torso and lower legs.

The mother fled to a nearby KFC for help, where she removed her clothes and doused water on her burning skin. An ambulance took her to hospital where she was treated and discharged the following day.

Yet on June 6, she returned. An infection had taken hold in her burns.

“When I went to see her she seemed to be getting better,” Joanne’s daughter, Katie Hipwell, said in a video released by Thames Valley Police.

“She was joking around, talking about coming out of hospital. She seemed OK. Obviously she was scarred, she thought she looked really bad and was worried about going out and things like that.

“But she seemed OK. Like she was going to carry on and be OK. But…”

Joanne died of multiple organ failure on June 14, 2017, as a result of septicaemia that had begun in her wounds. Her death marked the UK’s first acid attack fatality.

Joanne and her daughter, Katie. Image: Facebook.

Webster, who bears the scars of an acid attack just months earlier, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in April, and faced sentencing this week.

Speaking outside Reading Crown Court, Joanne's sisters called for restrictions on the sale of acid and tougher penalties for carrying it in public, in the hope other families may be spared from the same trauma they have endured.

Jacqueline Joiner described how the acid had eaten Joanne's skin down to the muscle, leaving her once-bubbly sister "angry, frightened and distressed".

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“The day before Jo died, I will never forget the look in her eyes when she asked me: ‘Am I going to die?’" she said, according to The Guardian. "All her organs were failing. We watched the life drain out of Jo.”

She told media that Joanne's two children, Katie and Ryan, watched on as she passed; “They were so brave,” she said. “We feel cheated and robbed.”

But on Tuesday, the judge delivered a semblance of justice, committing Webster to 17 years behind bars.

As his sentenced was passed, the teenager reportedly shouted at the judge: "All of you will probably be dead by the time I am out of here," he said, according to The Guardian. "F**k you bro.”

Left: Xeneral Webster experienced an acid attack months earlier; Right: Webster cycling away from the scene on June 3. Images: Thames Valley Police.

The tragedy is the second suffered by the Rand family in recent years, after Joanne's eldest child Charlotte died in a car crash in 2011, at the age of 19.

"[Joanne's death] brought back memories of when Charlotte was killed so that made it worse because it's happened twice to our family now," Jacqueline told the BBC.

"You don't think this sort of thing happens to a normal family."

For Katie, little can ease the pain of losing her mum, a woman she has described as as much "a best friend" as a parent.

"It's been really hard, because some days I'll be fine and I'll try and be OK," she told Thames Valley Police. "But then other days I just can't help thinking about what happened and how scared she must have been, the pain and all that stuff, what she went through."

On top of her grief, Jacqueline has been left living in fear.

"Every time I pass somebody I think, 'What are they going to do?' If they carried water, I'd worry, 'What are they doing?' I really shut myself away for a long time," she added.

"We've lost Jo, and we'll never get her back again. I wouldn't want anyone to go through this again. It's really horrible."

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