Nobody who sees Luke and Ryan Hart taking their beloved dogs for a walk on Monday will realise the significance of the day.
But it will be a poignant one of reflection for the brothers, five years on from their father murdering their mum and sister in Spalding swimming pool’s car park.
After inflicting years of domestic abuse and coercion, he lay in wait for his wife and daughter with a shotgun before turning it on himself.
It came just a couple of days after Luke and Ryan had managed to move Claire, 50, and Charlotte, 19, out of the family home in Moulton and into a rental property in Spalding.
Their father was so controlling of his family as they grew up that their dogs – Max, Indi and Bella – were the only things allowed to be shown love and compassion.
“Our best moments with Mum and Charlotte were with the dogs,” said Luke. “Our father would be out at work and we’d take them for a walk.
“They were always low-key moments but had a lot of emotional significance for us.”
Luke and Ryan believe Max was murdered by their father a couple of weeks before the move.
“Max died in mysterious circumstances,” said Luke. “We believe our father was testing his ability to kill when he killed Max, to see if he had it in him to then kill us.
“In the days after we’d escaped he was desperate to get all of us together for one last walk. He was basically planning to kill all of us and the dogs.
“The dogs were so important to us that he wanted to kill them as much as he wanted to kill us.”
Luke, 31, and Ryan, 30, might spend part of Monday’s anniversary taking Indi, a vivacious Jackahuahua, and Bella, a Labradoodle, to a new place for their walk.
“They’re both lovely dogs,” said Luke. “Everyone who meets them comments on their caring and friendly personalities – and that’s like Mum and Charlotte woven through them both.”
The brothers, both engineers, were living and working away at the time of the murders on July 19, 2016. For several months afterwards they cocooned themselves in the rental property, still surrounded by stacks of unpacked removal boxes, trying to make sense of what had happened.
In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, police advised them not to read any media reports. That was fine by Luke who was already seething over the press pack in Spalding.
“I was very angry and thought that if I did read them I would become a liability,” he said. “Ryan, however, did read some of the reports and then shared them with me. And they made us beyond furious.”
Some people were blaming foreign communities; others expressed pity for Hart and described him as “nice” and “caring”. One report in a national newspaper even described the events as “understandable”.
Luke said: “We saw all that and were deeply, deeply upset and just disconnected from society. We didn’t want to be part of the world anymore.
“We pretty much descended into just looking after the dogs for the next six to eight months.
“It was the dogs that kept our lives going - they would wake us up in the morning and licked our faces when we cried.”
Eventually, it was other dog walkers and elderly folk around Spalding who unwittingly coaxed the grieving lads back into society, thanks to simple chats.
So too did the cathartic writing of their book Remembered Forever because those months together were punctuated with mixed emotions and conflict as they struggled to deal with their feelings. Sharing emotions and showing each other compassion was alien to them and very tough to confront.
The book was started by Luke who had immersed himself in reading about domestic abuse, criminology, psychology and the evil of Hitler and the Soviet Union in an effort to understand what had driven his father’s murderous campaign.
He said: “Managing the emotions was firefighting. The emotions that come from something like that are just going to destroy you – you have to go deep into the source.
“I was just trying to process everything intellectually and every time I spoke to Ryan about it, he found it really despairing. It just brought it all back for him.
“I realised if I could write a book then Ryan could read it in his own time and process his emotions away from me.
“That book became how he and I communicated. We ended up writing alongside each other and reading in our own time.”
Remembered Forever – a very personal project they hoped a few people close to them might want to read - went on to sell around 50,000 copies.
Meanwhile, the brothers used the years of evil by their father to bring about positive change, by sharing their story at public speaking events and launching their charity CoCoAwareness.
Luke said: “We realised that we needed to be proactive and take control, otherwise this would shape us.
“We wanted people to understand so that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes. We realised there would be other people out there who would be living with similar experiences and also not recognise the danger they’re in.”
He added: “The book, the speaking and feeling the support behind us was hugely important in our healing.”
Luke and Ryan, who live in Surrey, had been travelling worldwide to share their story prior to Covid-19. Sadly, lockdown led to a spike in domestic abuse and homicides.
“Coercive control is, in essence, lockdown,” said Luke. “For a lot of people, that’s their daily experience but I think for others the lockdown might well have been the catalyst for coercive control behaviours to become more visible.
“That’s been a kind of sub-narrative of Covid – it hasn’t had the same emphasis as some of the other impacts. The impact on those who have been locked down with abusers has probably been beyond traumatising because it’s gone on for a very long period of time now.”
The brothers have welcomed both the increase in media awareness of coercive control and more countries considering legislation.
Their story has helped others understand how domestic abuse and danger can be present without the explicit violence wrongly believed to also be necessary.
Luke said: “The thing that we hope for more than anything is that our story creates conversations.
“The more we talk about domestic abuse, the more we’re going to get better at spotting it and dealing with it.
“Mum and Charlotte were always giving and trying to help other people and I think knowing that their legacy is, hopefully, saving other people’s lives and making a real impact is something they would be proud of.”
Remembered Forever is available to buy through Luke and Ryan’s website www.cocoawareness.co.uk
Editor’s note: The father’s name has been withheld and not used in this article at Luke and Ryan’s request as they wish to keep the focus on their mother and sister.