Hastings family remembers Kayleigh Hanks: a year on from her death

"We still can't believe it. We are still expecting her to just walk through the gate."

Emma and Kayleigh Hanks
Emma and Kayleigh Hanks

Today (Tuesday, July 21) marks one year since Kayleigh Hanks, 29, was murdered by her partner in her Bexhill flat. For her family and closest friends, the pain caused by that life-changing day has not gone away.

Kayleigh's mum Sue said: "We have got to live with this for the rest of our lives. You don't ever think about outliving your daughter.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

"If she had an illness then we could have had a chance to say goodbye. We can't even say she passed away because she was killed. Her life was taken away in a matter of minutes.

Emma and Kayleigh Hanks

"We still can't believe it. We are still expecting her to just walk through the gate."

Kayleigh's elder sister Emma now has special guardianship of her one-year-old niece, who was just seven months when her mum died.

Emma says, 12 months on, she still finds herself sobbing with her mum Sue.

Her children, who were so close to their 'aunt Kay', look to the sky each night before bed to wish Kayleigh a goodnight.

Emma's eldest daughter Kasey, 13 - Kayleigh's only niece - still texts her aunt to ask how she is and pretends Kayleigh has sent something back.

Kasey said: "I miss spending time with her. We were really close. I miss having a laugh with her.

"I've got all her bits and pieces. Everything in her flat came here but most of it is in my room."

Emma's son Ashly, 7, says Aunt Kay helps him with his homework.

"They miss her so much," said Emma. "It's so difficult to put it into words but you can see the impact this has had on the children.

"They loved her and they miss spending time with her."

Following Kayleigh's death, Emma said she and her family were inundated with messages from people who knew her or were touched by her kindness.

Steph Harmer, a family friend, will be naming her baby girl - who is due in September - after Kayleigh to thank her for her support while her previous marriage ended.

"Kayleigh always knew I wanted a little girl," said Stephanie. "When I found out I was having a daughter, I asked the family if I could use her name and name her after Kayleigh.

"Kayleigh was my biggest support through the breakdown of the marriage. She helped me when I was having difficult days.

"She was a kindhearted person. She never took people at face value, and always got to know them first."

Emma last saw Kayleigh the day before she died, when she came to visit her in Hastings alongside her partner Ian Paton and their seven-month-old daughter.

After a nine day trial in February, Paton, of Snowdrop Rise, St Leonards, was found guilty of strangling Kayleigh and was jailed for a minimum of 17 years.

On Tuesday (July 21), Emma and Sue will be visiting Kayleigh's final resting place - her old flat, in London Road - to put down some flowers.

Then, at 12pm, family and friends will be gathering in Egerton Park to release balloons to mark the anniversary.