The younger brother of Charlene Downes has been found dead just a few weeks before Christmas, devastating family and friends.
Robert Downes was found ‘in a pool of blood’ at the family home on George Street, Blackpool, at around 11.45pm on Saturday, December 4 just a few hours after complaining of feeling unwell.
His distraught mum Karen, 56, said: “I’m heartbroken. I still can’t believe it. I still think he’s going to walk up and knock on the door. Losing him as well as Charlene is just too much – I know it’s been 18 years, but it doesn’t get better. I’ll never be the same again.”
Robert, a dad of four, had spent the night of December 3 with the mother of his children, Enya Cardwell. He returned home the following morning and set off with his dad, Robert Sr, to Blackpool FC, where he worked as a steward.
Shortly after arriving there, however, Robert complained of feeling ill and left. He returned home at 6.30pm, and fell asleep a short time later in an upstairs bedroom – the last time he was seen alive.
Karen said: “I only saw him that morning and he was fit and well. He came to my house about 6.30pm with his mate and went upstairs; about half an hour later his mate left and I went up and saw him and he said he was going to get his head down because he was tired and feeling ill. The last time I saw him he was on the settee, fast asleep.”
At around 11.30pm, Robert Sr returned home and went upstairs to check on his son, and found him unresponsive on his bedroom floor surrounded by blood.
“They said ‘sorry, he’s gone’. I just screamed,” Karen said. “He was perfectly fine that morning, and just a few hours later he was dead on the floor. The worst part was seeing them taking him away in that bag. It’s unreal. He was only 30. I can’t wrap my head around it – it was so sudden.”
Following Robert’s death, a post-mortem was carried out, but the results came back unascertained – meaning his family must now wait for an inquest to determine the cause.
His death comes as a crushing blow for his family, who are no strangers to tragedy, after 14-year-old Charlene disappeared on November 1 2003.
She was last seen by Karen at 7.15pm that day, when she kissed her goodbye at a bus stop on Church Street on her way to meet friends in the town centre. Police believe she was murdered within hours of her last sighting, with suspicions arising that she had been a victim of child sex abuse at the hands of one or more men.
Mum and dad Karen and Bob Downes
The disappearance of Charlene hit the family badly, and Robert was taken into care in Manchester as Karen became unable to cope. There he struggled in school, and was excluded for hitting another pupil who taunted him over rumours that his sister had been murdered and cooked into kebabs.
He later fell into drug abuse, and was jailed for attacking Karen in 2019 – but she says he had drastically improved since leaving prison in August 2020, and was looking forward to spending the new year with his children.
A fundraiser set up in his memory raised more than £400. Karen said: “Robert was gorgeous, he was outrageous, he was funny and he was loud. When he came out of prison in August last year he had put weight on, he was looking so well, he was going to the gym. He was a changed man from when he went in. He wasn’t an angel, he had his flaws, I’m not going to give him a shining halo. But he was my boy and we loved him.”
Enya, who was with Robert for 13 years, said: “Robert was doing brilliantly, and it was a Robert I had never seen before. He was very focused. I’d never seen him so full of life. He was doing so well. He even talked about getting married.
“He didn’t like to talk about his life, but everyone was quite aware that he didn’t have an easy life, especially after what happened to Charlene.
“He was the loveliest lad you could ever meet. People misjudged him; they read things about him and made assumptions about him, but he had the biggest heart. He always wanted to make someone smile.”
Karen said: “Robert was the baby of the family, and my only boy. I already know what it’s like to lose a child and it’s not something you can ever get over. I’m sitting here bursting into tears every day. I’ve still got the last T-shirt he wore.
“There are no Christmas decorations in our house. There’ll be no Christmas Day for us. It’s absolutely devastated me.
“I was wishing it was me. I still do. I’m older, I’ve lived my life, but he hadn’t. He never had a chance.
“He never really got over his sister; he was only 12 when she went missing, and he lost his teenage years. I’m not making excuses for him, but it affected everybody because we got no justice. He wanted to find the people who did it and know where she was, and he never got that.”
She added: “He’ll live on through his beautiful children now.”
Robert’s funeral, attended by his family and friends, will take place at Carleton Crematorium on January 10.