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Closure for Carrie: How Caroline Flack’s Mum is Still Fighting for Truth Four Years After Her Death

On the anniversary of Caroline Flack’s death, Byline Times launches a new #MediaToo investigation into her treatment by the police and the media with an interview with her mother Christine

Christine Flack is still left with unanswered questions about Caroline’s treatment by the media, police, and justice system. Photo: Dan Evans

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On 15 February, the family of Caroline Flack sat together on a bench memorial in their local woods, raised a glass, and held her in their hearts and thoughts. Four years ago, the television star – one of the most recognisable faces and admired personalities in British entertainment – took her own life at the age of 40.

“We just go to her bench in the woodlands,” her mum Christine explains quietly to Byline Times. “We meet there each year – Lizzie, my eldest daughter, and Jody, Carrie’s twin, and Paul, her brother, come. “This year we took a bottle of wine to toast her, and had McDonald’s because that’s what Carrie would have had. And we usually end up smiling, really. She did some funny things. She was always so funny.”

For those who knew ‘Carrie’ best, it’s been four years of heartbreak, grief, and an open-ended search for understanding and acceptance. It’s also been a quest for answers from a police and justice system the Flacks feel failed her.

They are a close-knit bunch. Chris lives with her partner Nigel and Caroline’s strapping grey Scottish fold cat Waffle in a neat white-washed apartment in a Georgian conversion in Norwich. Jody and her family are based nearby. Chris adores her grandchildren. They’re in and out of each other’s lives daily. Her home is decorated with reminders of happier moments – framed magazine covers and photos celebrating Caroline’s many remarkable achievements; winning Strictly Come Dancing; collecting a Bafta for Love Island; being Cosmo’s Celebrity Influencer of the Year 2018. 

It was here, amid such great memories, that Chris took a call on 15 February, 2020, that changed everything. It was Jody. She had just found her sister.

 Caroline Flack at Winter Wonderland 2019 Launch at Hyde Park. Photo: Landmark Media

No Way Back

Caroline Flack’s emotional struggles were long-known to her inner circle as well as many in the tabloid media and at her employer ITV. For five years she had presented the channel’s top-rating show Love Island; her bubbly kindness and relatable girl-next-door glamour a hit with millions of viewers.

But behind the confident public persona Caroline’s mental health fluctuated. She was deeply sensitive to online negativity, and obsessed over disparaging remarks on social media – “There could be 30 nice things said, one bad thing said, and that was it,” Christine says – to the point of depression.

So when, two months earlier, a domestic incident with her then-boyfriend – Lewis Burton, a tennis coach and model –  snowballed into a career-threatening court drama, it was a cause for deep concern.

Caroline’s greatest fear was always that her mental health challenges – for her a source of unspeakable shame and anxiety – would become public knowledge. To lose control of this deeply personal information, in the glare of a tabloid media with which she had long-endured an often abusive relationship, was devastating.

The facts of Caroline’s criminal case were established by Mary Hassell, the Coroner investigating her death, in August 2020. In the early hours of 12 December 2019, following nights out separately in which both had been drinking, Caroline and Lewis Burton returned together in cabs to her flat in Stoke Newington, east London.

The couple had gone to bed and Burton was asleep when his phone lit up with a message from a woman. Caroline picked up the device, holding her own phone in her other hand. She wanted to confront her boyfriend about it. Some “choice words” were used, says Chris.

At the inquest, the coroner re-enacted the movement of Caroline sweeping her hand toward Burton as he sat up quickly in bed. He hit his head on the corner of the handset she was holding, causing a 1cm cut beyond his hairline.

“That’s how it hit his head,” Chris says. “It was an accident.”

It was around 5 am. The pair argued and in the heat of it, Burton called the police. He said initially he thought he had been hit with a lamp or fan, though officers at the scene quickly established this to be inaccurate and removed no evidence from the scene beyond the phone.

Caroline later told the police that as he rang them Burton — still under the influence of alcohol — told her: “You’re fucked”. He was right. Caroline’s reaction to the dawning realisation of police involvement was extreme. In a display of emotional fragility, she self-harmed.

“I don’t think he realised what would happen with the media if the police came,” Chris says. “And so many police cars turned up… and that’s when she started cutting her wrists.”


The Police Arrive

When officers arrived eight minutes after Burton’s call, they met a scene that required nuance to understand. Caroline admitted her role immediately — she signed a note recording the fact — and explained that the injury to Burton was caused unintentionally.

“When the police got there, they saw this [blood] and that’s when she said ‘no I did it’, because they thought he may have hurt her. So straightaway she admitted it,” says Chris.

Although Crown Prosecution Service lawyer Katy Weiss later described it as like a “scene from a horror movie”, it’s beyond question that the police knew from the beginning the blood was substantially Caroline’s.

Not that this self-evident fact translated into the initial CPS case. Misinformation and incorrect assertions tumbled out at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court on 23 December 2019, as the news and social media looked on rubbing their hands.

Caroline entered a simple not guilty plea and through her solicitor sought a lifting of bail restrictions so she could see Burton over Christmas — he did not support the prosecution, branding it a “show trial”,  as they remained in a relationship — and plead her case in court at a later date.

Weiss objected forcefully — and successfully — on the matter of bail and gave plenty for the papers to report by repeating the lamp claim to the court. While acknowledging that Caroline had told police she was suicidal, Weiss also attacked her as “manipulative”, insisting: “She has ruined her own life by committing the assault.”

Such inflammatory words fuelled a frenzy of often prejudicial tabloid reporting. In the weeks between her arrest and death — a period in which criminal proceedings were formally “active” for the purposes of a media required by law to protect the presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial — the reporting on the case often went far beyond neutral. 


The Media Step In 

The biggest blow fell on New Year’s Eve 2019. A few days earlier she had surprised her family with a Christmas Day visit — “for 24 hours we just forgot it all. We were happy. Things felt normal again. But on Boxing Day, she was gone,” Chris recalls — when a picture Lewis Burton took of the bed on which Caroline had bled found its way onto The Sun’s front page.

Byline Times has learnt The Sun paid an unknown party a sum believed to be north of £20,000 for the picture, which had been shared over WhatsApp and sold, and published with the headline: “BEDROOM BLOODBATH Shocking pic shows Caroline Flack’s blood-soaked bed after her ‘lamp attack on boyfriend Lewis Burton’.”

Critically, this newspaper has established from multiple sources, the story was never put to Caroline’s people for verification of its accuracy per regular journalistic practices. Chris has her own thoughts about why.

Love Island TV presenter Caroline Flack, centre, escorted by police, as she arrives at Highbury Magistrates’ Court in London in December 2019. Photo: PA Images

She says: “It was a dreadful front page, really misleading. I don’t know why they didn’t try and get the correct facts. I think had they done so they would never have been able to print it. There is no way that picture should have been published.

“I still see things online now calling her a domestic abuser. It’s all been driven by that [front page] because it read as if the blood was her boyfriend’s. And they’ve never made it clear. They’ve taken the photo down from online, I believe, but it’s still out there.”

Chris adds: “He took the picture to send to friends and say ‘Look what she’s done’. Then one of those friends phoned the Sun and got quite a lot of money for it. I was told £20,000 but I think it was more. I can’t think about it because it makes me so angry that anyone would do that and then just go on and live their life.”

Yet The Sun wasn’t finished.  On 14 February 2020 – the same day Caroline found out her case was certain to go to trial – came a further teasing headline. “NO FLACKS GIVEN Brutal Caroline Flack Valentine’s Day card mocks troubled star with ‘I’ll f***ing lamp you’ message”, the Murdoch paper said. Within 24 hours she was gone.


The Coroner Concludes… 

The following August, as the country enjoyed an uneasy, temporary, release from Covid lockdown, coroner Mary Hassell – armed with all the facts and the wisdom of hindsight – could not have been clearer with her assessment.

Recording that Caroline had intended to take her own life, Hassell said: “I find the reason for her taking her life was she now knew she was being prosecuted for certainty and she knew she would face the media, press, publicity – it would all come down upon her.”

The lack of support Caroline’s family felt she received from ITV was a further hammer blow. A few days after the incident she – officially – ‘stepped down’ from hosting Love Island, but the truth was not quite so clear cut.

Chris says: “Immediately, before she was found guilty or anything, they cancelled her from Love Island. They say they didn’t, but they did. They sacked her. And then Channel 4 also cancelled a programme that she had already recorded. That was her world, just slipping away.”

Caroline succumbed to a perfect personal storm. And as her family tried to pick up the pieces of their lives amid a flurry of bills incoming from lawyers and others with sudden accounts to settle, Chris was left with far more questions than answers.

“She was trying to do everything she could to go along with what the police wanted and what her lawyers were telling her,” she says. “Carrie would say ‘no mum, you have to leave it, you can’t say anything’. That was the advice given to her – that it would all be fine and was just an argument between boyfriend and girlfriend.

“And then, of course, no one dropped it. The night before she died two things happened. She found out someone had sold the picture to The Sun, and the CPS said ‘No, we’re taking you to court’. It all got too much for her.”

As the nation reeled in shock at the sudden loss of one of its brightest young stars, the tabloids reaped a backlash. More than 800,000 people signed a petition calling for a ‘Caroline’s Law’ to make it an offence for papers to hound an individual to the point of suicide.

“It was after that I then started asking questions which I really wish I had asked at the time when she was alive,” Chris says. She began by launching a formal complaint against the Metropolitan Police, prompting the force to investigate the highly unusual sequence of events that led to the bringing of charges against Caroline at all…

  • In the next part of this series, Byline Times investigates the extraordinary undocumented circumstances that led an initial CPS recommendation for Caroline to receive a caution to be overturned at the intervention of one police officer.
  • If you are affected by the issues raised in this article or have suicidal feelings, call the Samaritans on 116 123 or visit samaritans.org to speak to someone.


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