Each day her arm would reach around her silent daughter, her hand resting tightly on her back long enough to squeeze every ounce of love she could into the motionless body.
For 18 months, all Nikki Lynn could do was clasp her once vivacious, blonde-haired Angel, hoping the depth of her emotion would stir something locked deep inside. But nothing.
Then around two weeks ago, Nikki felt, for the first time, Angel’s right arm reached around her back in return; her hand from her lightly press her back from her, then move to stroke her hair from her.
She can only nod when I ask if it felt like a miracle. She did not believe her daughter de ella would ever hug her again.
“She just put her hand straight around my back and started tapping me,” recalls 47-year-old Nikki, exhausted and barely believing.
“She didn’t hug much before, she was a typical teenager, but she would give you a hug if you were upset. It’s very special to have that hug now.”
Angel Lynn was just 19 when her abusive boyfriend Chay Bowskill, 21, kidnapped her as she walked near her Loughborough home in September 2020, grabbing her in a bear-like grip, forcing her into a van, then driving away with his friend, Rocco Sansome.
On the A6, at speeds of 60mph, Angel fell onto the road. Bowskill has stated he is unsure if she fell or jumped. Angel has been unable to give her account of her.
Her brain injuries were so severe, her parents, Nikki and Paddy, 54, were warned she would die numerous times. She has been unable to speak, eat, or walk, since. For many months, she has barely responded to anything, a state so devastating Nikki admits she wondered if she would have been better off at peace.
In January, Bowskill was jailed for seven-and-a-half years after being found guilty of kidnap, controlling and coercive behavior and perverting the course of justice, but the Lynns were outraged, and two weeks ago at the Court of Appeal, the sentence was increased to 12 years.
Sansome was jailed for 21-months for his part in the kidnap, which he denied.
It was around that acutely stressful time, Angel began to make incredible breakthroughs.
Revealing them for the first time, the family say not only has she hugged her mother, but she has smiled, attempted to blow a kiss, wave, hold the TV remote, and written words in response to questions, all using her right hand – her left side is more severely impacted.
Incredibly, she has also started to make noises, impressing doctors who have referred her for specialist speech therapy. The family now hope one day Angel might be able to reveal what happened to her.
“A doctor once rang me and said, ‘Nikki, you will have to accept Angel isn’t going to pull through this’,” recalls the mum, who runs a cleaning company with her husband.
“His exact words were ‘miracles do happen, but in Angel’s case there is not going to be a miracle’.
“But there has been a miracle. That hug was a miracle. She used to look straight through you, there was nothing in her eyes from her at all. She can now smile spontaneously.
“When she started making the sounds we gave her a pen and paper and said ‘Are you ok? Are you in pain?’ And she wrote ‘No’.
“Her brother asked her the other day what she wanted and she wrote ‘Chocolate’.
“She can give you a thumbs up for yes. She can now press her nurse’s button to wind them up, she gets that humour. She had a cheeky sense of humour.
“Bit by bit I feel we are starting to get her back.”
Besides her, Paddy speaks little, but when he does his overwhelming emotion is clear.
“She has blown me a kiss,” he confides. “She has put her hand from her to her mouth from her and holds it there for at least a minute, and then tries to blow. She does try. It means a lot.”
Asking Angel what happened 18 months ago is something for “down the line” they say. Her progress from her is still painstaking.
“We don’t want to bombard her, her mental health might not be able to deal with that,” Nikki explains.
This avalanche of small milestones coincided with stopping one medication, Baclofen, an antispasmodic.
They hope eventually further reduction of medication for seizures may allow her to try to eat again. She is currently fed through a tube to her stomach.
Today, a 21-year-old Angel lives in a 24-hour care home, although she can make home visits of up to four hours in a wheelchair. She is still at serious risk of pneumonia, and cannot lie flat.
The family supply bedding and towels so the smell reminds her of home; they make sure she has familiar toiletries, Ted Baker body lotion, Angel perfume. They do her nails and her hair.
They would desperately like her back home, but need an extension for specialist facilities and a carer, and are fundraising for long-term care.
She is hardly recognizable as the young girl she was. Stunning, stubborn, a teen who loved getting manicures and going shopping with her mum, who adored her little sister and brother de ella, Kelsie, ten, and Jimmy, nine, who has severe autism.
She studied public services at college and had thought of working in forensic science.
But she withdrew when she got together with Bowskill, a criminal who has now got an extra two years added to his jail term for burglary conspiracy, as part of a gang that stole prestige cars.
During the lockdowns she lived mainly with him. Nikki admits she did not know the one-year relationship was abusive and was horrified at the catalog of derogative, bullying messages from Bowskill to Angel revealed in court.
Once, she recalls Angel coming home and asking her to pick up the phone if it rang, explaining Bowskill wouldn’t ring her mobile as he wanted to know she was at home.
“I said he was paranoid, but I had no idea,” Nikki admits. “If I’d had any idea, I’d have put a stop to that relationship.”
She just wishes she had known the signs of control and coercion.
After the accident on September 17, Angel was airlifted to hospital and had emergency surgery for a bleed on the brain.
Debilitating seizures followed. Later, she contracted Covid-19 and nearly died again.
“They let us sleep with her all week because they said she wouldn’t make it,” says Nikki.
Nikki now takes anti-depressants and struggles to sleep. Little Jimmy is nervous of his sister’s changed appearance, and Kelsie is receiving support. She is “angry all the time”.
Nikki says: “She loves Angel, she will brush her hair, put cream on, take her oxygen levels. She she’s not even 11 yet, she she’s a little carer. ”
The road ahead is long for all this family.
However, hope grows with the hugs and kisses. Nikki dares to imagine a future.
“She is locked in, but every time I see her I tell her ‘Don’t give up, keep trying, keep telling yourself you can do it’,” she says.
To help fundraise for Angel’s rehabilitation visit this website.