How brave man disfigured in case of mistaken identity has rebuilt his life with his family’s help
- Andreas Christopheros was targeted outside his family home in Cornwall
- Attacker David Phillips threw acid on his face in case of mistaken identity
- Phillips was this week sentenced to life imprisonment at Truro Crown Court
- But father-of-one Andreas has said he will not let the attack define his life
As he drifted in and out of a coma in intensive care, his face and chest horrifically burned in a life-threatening acid attack, Andreas Christopheros tortured himself with the thought that he would never again see his toddler son, Theo. Blinded in his right eye and with little hope of saving what little vision remained in his left, he was heartbroken.
‘And if I did, would he recognise me? Would I look like a monster to him?’ Andreas says. ‘The idea of not being able to see him crucified me. Not to be able to watch him change and mature. To see him on his first day at school.
‘All the things a parent wants to witness as their child grows up.
‘Of course what I wasn’t aware of then was that Pia, my wife, had been told by doctors that the chances of my surviving the attack at all were very, very low. For her, the greatest fear was not that I would lose my sight, but that I would lose my life.’
Andreas need not have worried about his young son’s reaction when he first saw his father, some two months after the December 2014 attack. His voice breaking, Andreas hugs Theo, now two, and clasps his wriggling son close as he describes that heartstopping meeting.
‘Theo took one look at me, then ran to Pia, burying his head in her arms. Then he looked back at me, held out his arms and shouted: “Daddy, Daddy. It’s you.” He launched himself into my arms and clung on to me like a little monkey. He wouldn’t let go for about 40 minutes.’
Agony: Andreas before the acid attack, left, and, right, his attacker Dave Phillips, who has been jailed for life
For Andreas, the past ten months since David Phillips – a man he had never met or seen before – hurled acid at him in a doorstep ambush, have been a huge personal battle.
He has dealt uncomplainingly with his disfigurement, endured endless, painful skin grafts, in which delicate skin from his inner thighs has been used to mask his deep facial scars, and spent agonising hours have surgery on his eyes – which now no longer close – chest and neck. He wears a transparent, silicone ‘compression’ mask to protect his skin, which is prone to tightening and is extremely sensitive.
As Andreas, 30, readily admits, before the attack he and his family had lived an idyllic life, in which terror and fear played no part.
Andreas had enjoyed a happy childhood, was privately educated and excelled at university. He and Pia had been married only a year.
‘Acid attacks. Threats. These were the things of a life we didn’t inhabit. We lived in a picturesque Cornish hamlet. Violence. Police investigations. These were things we saw only on the television screen.’
Much of that changed overnight. Today the couple are wary, more watchful, their lives tinged with suspicion and doubt. The horror of the attack continues to haunt them.
In the first few days of his long struggle back to some semblance of health and normality, one other thought tortured Andreas. They were the first words he uttered when he was eventually able to communicate: ‘Who would do this to me?’
HORRIFIC WEAPON CAN BE EASILY BOUGHT ON THE HIGH STREET
There has been an alarming rise in acid attacks in the UK, doubling in a decade to 106 last year.
In some high-profile cases, acid has been used as a weapon of revenge following romantic disputes – such as the notorious attack on Katie Piper in 2008 that was arranged by a former boyfriend.
Police say the attackers are using household chemicals, such as sulphuric acid – easily obtained from High Street stores – and the fluid from car batteries, making it difficult to regulate their sale and possession in the same way as other weapons.
Sulphuric acid is sold without restriction as a drain cleaner at up to 98 per cent strength.
There have been 18 acid attacks in the past three months alone.
Last month, Carla Whitlock, 37, lost an eye in an attack in Southampton. Naomi Oni, a Victoria’s Secret shop assistant, was disfigured when she was attacked by a jealous ex-friend in Dagenham, East London, in 2012.
On Friday, the man who committed the attack, David Phillips, was sentenced to life imprisonment at Truro Crown Court after finally admitting his guilt and confessing that Andreas had done nothing at all to provoke the attack. He was simply the victim of mistaken identity.
We now know that Phillips decided to take matters into his own hands when a family member was sexually assaulted. He wrongly identified Andreas’ home outside Truro as the address where the man who had carried out the assault lived.
On December 9 last year he drove 300 miles from his home in Hastings, East Sussex, to exact his misplaced and terrifying revenge.
It is not a date Andreas or Pia are likely to forget. Andreas was working on his computer by the front window, while Pia was upstairs nursing Theo, who had a fever.
‘I remember idly watching a red Peugeot Partner van driving slowly towards the house,’ Andreas recalls. ‘My father owns one exactly the same and for a second I thought it was him. Then I remembered he was in Cyprus. I think I assumed it was a Christmas parcel being delivered.
‘I opened the door and a man I had never seen before was standing on the doorstep. He was holding a large beaker in his hand. In one moment, he shouted, ‘This is for you, mate,’ and flung his arm up towards me.’
The beaker, filled to the brim with car battery acid, hurtled up towards the ceiling, sending a spray of acid across Andreas’s face and neck and showering down on to his torso.
‘I’ve never felt pain like it,’ Andreas admits. ‘My eyes, my face, were on fire. I stumbled down the hall, heading for the kitchen. I knew it was vital to get water on my face as soon as possible. All the time I was screaming at Pia to phone 999. My shirt was disintegrating, I could feel my face melting.’
Upstairs, shocked by her husband’s cries, Pia raced to see what had happened. In her stockinged feet she ran through the acid on the carpet, burning her soles.
‘My first sight of Andreas was truly shocking,’ Pia says, as she gently strokes her husband’s pitted and scarred face. ‘It was as though his face was dying. Melting.’
As Pia, 33, phoned for an ambulance, Andreas dashed into the street, knocking on neighbours’ doors, desperate to find someone with medical knowledge to help.
‘It took about 20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. It seemed like hours,’ says Andreas. By now, police had arrived and Pia, frantic to help her husband but worried about her baby son alone upstairs, was distraught. Andreas was whisked to the local hospital where doctors decided he needed to be immediately flown by medical plane to Swansea hospital, one of the UK’s major burns units.
‘My last memory before lapsing into a coma was of a doctor leaping on to the trolley I was lying upon, straddling my chest and pouring bag after bag of saline into my eyes in the hope of saving my sight.’
That evening, as Andreas lay in intensive care, doctors gently told Pia that such were the severity of his burns, he was unlikely to survive the night. ‘It was the longest night of my life,’ she says. ‘I could only look at Andreas and will him to live. The burns, his eyesight, they were all things we could overcome. I just couldn’t lose him.’
Before medics had whisked him into the ambulance, Andreas had managed to tell police about the red van. During the long weeks he lay in hospital, enduring skin grafts and battling to save his sight – he eventually retained partial sight in his left eye only – officers viewed CCTV footage of the red van, which led them to Phillips, who initially denied any involvement.
It was only at his trial two weeks ago that he pleaded guilty to unlawfully and maliciously cause grievous bodily harm with intent. Charges of perverting the course of justice against his wife, Nicole – who had given him a false alibi – were subsequently dropped. Andreas was in court on Friday to see Phillips being sentenced and he admits that facing his attacker was more difficult than he had expected.
‘Life was the right decision,’ he says. ‘As I walked past, Phillips touched his heart and said, “Sorry.” I said nothing. Nothing at all.’
Andreas is determined his disfigured face will not destroy his life. ‘It’s a hiccup, a major one, but slowly I have learned to expect what to see when I look in a mirror.’
While in hospital, Andreas had asked the nurses to cover all the mirrors, unwilling to see the extent of his burns. Eventually, though, he decided to take his first look. ‘It wasn’t as awful as I imagined. And, of course, I had been worrying what Theo would make of it.’
When Andreas returned home after several weeks of surgery, his hopes of concentrating on quietly overcoming his disabilities were dashed. It wasn’t just the array of fresh challenges he faced, such as his new sensitivity to sunlight which meant he could only travel outside in the back of his car with thick blankets pinned to its windows to prevent any sunlight penetrating.
Instead, to his horror and disbelief, police told him he and his family’s lives were in danger as the attacker had not yet been found.
Panic buttons were installed in the house and Andreas carried a personal alarm at all times. ‘I found the whole thing terrifying,’ says Pia, ‘In the supermarket, I would suddenly panic, wondering if the man or woman next to me was going to attack me. I became terrified of allowing Theo out of my sight.’
Eventually, the family moved out of their home and, while Andreas believes he could return, Pia wants to sell the house and start afresh.
‘I still dream constantly of acid attacks,’ she admits. ‘Returning to that house would be very difficult for me.’
There was another challenge the family had to face. Much of the police investigation centred on establishing a motive for the attack. And to do so they had to trawl every aspect of the couple’s private life.
‘For a long time afterwards I felt like the criminal, not the victim,’ says Andreas. ‘Pia and I had no secrets left. I understand completely why police had to examine everything – our laptops, iPhones and iPads. They needed to discover if there was something in my life that was wrong. It was a very unnerving process.
‘I would lie in bed at night going through people I knew. Could it be a disgruntled tenant, someone who believed I had slighted them?’
It has been difficult to accept that, instead, he was the victim of mistaken identity. ‘Phillips’ defence team made much of how the effect of a sexual assault on a family member had “put him in an impossible position”,’ Andreas says. ‘I find that phrase insulting. There can be no justification for what he did.
‘There have been times when I have howled with hysterical tears. But I am never going to allow what happened to define me.
‘My injuries will haunt me for the rest of my life. But I am determined they are not going to overwhelm my life. Never.’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3267741/Devastated-instant-blameless-victims-UK-s-acid-attack-epidemic-brave-man-disfigured-case-mistaken-identity-rebuilt-life-family-s-help.html#ixzz3oDeoipCh
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