Pain still fresh for mum of girl slain in UK

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am


The mother of a Chinese woman who was battered to death in a senseless killing that shocked Britain has spoken of her enduring grief on the anniversary of the loss of her only child.

Jia Ashton, a petite 25-year-old economics graduate from Guilin, was beaten to death in a bungled robbery by jobless drifter David Simmonds as she walked home through woodland from her office job in Derbyshire on March 10, 2011.

Simmonds killed Jia after he took her MP3 player and mobile phone. He was jailed for 28 years in October after admitting to the murder.

Jia had been planning to start a family with her husband, Matthew, a music teacher.

Her mother, Pan Ning, was devastated, saying last year after Jia's death: 'In China, if you kill someone, you have to die for it. If you take a life, you pay with a life. In England, the laws are too lenient.'

But speaking this week from her home in Guilin, the 50-year-old - who goes by the English name Penny - said she no longer wished 21-year-old Simmonds dead. 'Even if he was dead, it wouldn't bring Jia back to me,' she said.

'I just want this man to express regret for what he has done, and I want him to tell other people not to do the terrible things he did.

'I want him to explain why he did this to Jia. I want to know why he did something so evil, and I want him to truly feel sorry for what he has done.'

A former factory worker in one of the mainland's poorest provinces, Guangxi, Penny, a single parent, scrimped and saved to pay for Jia's education, determined to give her daughter a better life.

She got divorced from her driver husband when Jia was just four years old. Penny worked as a welder in a car factory, then as a taxi driver before setting up a restaurant, which she sold to pay for her daughter's studies overseas.

Penny took out bank loans and struggled to cope with the cost of her daughter's education as Jia went to a sixth-form college and then to Warwick University, where she got an economics degree and met her future husband.

Jia and Matthew married in Guilin in 2006. Two years later, Penny joined her daughter in England after she married Matthew's father, John. The elder couple were brought together by their children's romance.

Penny was living in Britain with John some 322 kilometres from her daughter's home at the time of the murder, but has since returned to China where her husband recently spent an extended stay with her.

The pain of her daughter's loss has put a strain on Penny's marriage. 'We decided we needed time apart - maybe for half a year, maybe for a year,' she said.

'Sometimes I am very down and John asks me, 'How long will you be like this?' And I reply, 'I don't know. Maybe for the rest of my life. Maybe I can never be happy again.''

Penny found it too painful to return to England for her daughter's funeral or Simmonds' trial, but said life in Guilin was just as hard. 'I think of Jia every day, and my flat here in Guilin is full of memories.

'Jia and Matthew came to Guilin for a three-month holiday when they married and I bought a nice piano for Matthew to play while he was here.

'But nobody plays it now. Every day, I see it in my living room and it brings so many memories back to me. It just reminds me that Jia is gone.'

Many of Penny's old friends in Guilin remain unaware of Jia's death. 'I am afraid to go out in case I meet people who haven't heard about it,' Penny said.

Penny has also kept the truth from Jia's maternal grandmother. 'She is 86 years old and very frail, and we are afraid that if she knows the truth, it will break her heart and kill her.'

Penny has also not spoken to Matthew since the days after Jia's disappearance and is saddened by their lack of communication. Matthew had argued with his wife had slept in a hotel the night before her murder, initially making him a suspect in the murder inquiry.

'He is very sad too, I know. John told me he is very down sometimes,' Penny said. 'I can understand. I need to wait until he is ready to talk to me.'

Though Penny says she received comforting messages from Jia's friends and from the police officers who dealt with her case, she is still wracked by guilt.

'I ask myself, 'Why didn't I look after Jia better?' ... Sometimes I feel I just wasn't a good enough mother to her.'

She planned to spend Jia's death anniversary yesterday with family and close friends, and would buy flowers in memory of her daughter.

'I miss Jia so much every day and the pain doesn't go away,' Penny said. 'Every day I pray to God and ask him why this happened to my daughter. I am still waiting for an answer.'