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As my Paul lay dying I kissed him, put a scan of our unborn twins in his hand..and he just slipped away; EXCLUSIVE GRIEF OF GIRL, 16, WHOSE FIANCE WAS MURDERED IN MYSTERY ATTACK.

Byline: By JULIE McCAFFREY

IT'S eerily quiet on the muddy track known locally as the Black Path. But Kirsty McIntosh clamps her hands to her ears to block out the imagined sound of a baying mob.

This lane, which links a housing estate to a cluster of pubs, is where Kirsty's 19-year-old fiance Paul Croft was beaten to death by a 14-strong gang.

"I have nightmares about him lying here with blood pouring from his head," she whispers. "Every night that wakes me."

Pregnant Kirsty, 16, now faces life as a single mother of twins.

"But I'm lucky," she says, chewing her lip to dam a cascade of tears. "I've got a part of the love of my life inside me, and I'll have his twins to cuddle and love for ever. I just hope they'll look like their daddy."

Friends and family assure her that things will get better, that the raw grief will subside. But thoughts of Paul occupy every waking and sleeping moment.

"Sometimes I'm numb. Sometimes I cry and cry and can't stop," she says. "And all the time I feel lonely, empty, lost."

The pair met last September in Manchester and soon became inseparable. Paul was a trainee business development manager for a mobile phone company and Kirsty was studying childcare at college.

Every evening they caught the bus to his home in Eccles or hers in Little Hulton, both suburbs of Manchester.

Dates were spent at the Trafford Centre cinema or listening to dance music in their rooms. Sometimes they took a taxi to Asda at 3am when Paul insisted on buying her flowers.

"He was always doing daft things like that," she smiles. "He made me laugh the moment we met because he bought trainers, then realised they were golf shoes.

"We clicked immediately. That night we had our first kiss.

I HADN'T had any serious boyfriends. But he was different to anyone else I met.

"He treated me like a princess. I could do no wrong in his eyes. And his eyes were amazing - big, blue and gorgeous. He looked at me like no one else ever did."

Kirsty and Paul, whom she called Crofty, couldn't get enough of each other. Their romance was only four months old when he proposed. "Just out of the blue he said: 'Will you marry me?'" remembers Kirsty. "I said: 'Shut up!' But he said he was serious, so I said: 'Of course I will.'

"He asked me not to tell anyone until he'd bought me a ring with his next wages. Then he said he'd shout it from the rooftops.

"But I was so excited I couldn't keep the secret. Mum said I was a bit young but didn't mind as long as I was happy. And I'd never been happier. We were going to get married on my 18th birth-day: June 3 2006."

In February Kirsty was rushed to hospital with severe stomach pains. A nurse asked if she could be pregnant.

"We'd never been very careful about contraception," she admits. "We just assumed I wouldn't get pregnant.

"When doctors told us I was nine weeks gone with twins I was shocked. But Crofty was delighted. He kept rubbing and kissing my tummy and said he wanted a whole football team.

"He became really protective, running my baths and never letting me carry shopping bags. He called me his sexy little angel. He'd say: 'You're beautiful, do you know that? I'm the luckiest man alive.'"

But on March 24, days after they held hands and peered at their babies on a screen at her 12-week scan, Paul went to the New Market pub in Pendlebury - not one of his usual hangouts. He played pool and had a few drinks with family members.

At 8.05pm Kirsty called his mobile to arrange to meet next day. Minutes later the murderous gang set upon him.

"We chatted about my Winnie the Pooh balloon, because I love Winnie the Pooh," says Kirsty, her face crumpling with painful memories. "Then he said: 'Hang on a minute, it's all kicking off here.' I heard lots of voices but couldn't make out what they were saying. And before I could ask whether it was kicking off with him or someone else, or tell him to get out of there, the phone went dead.

"I was frantic, kept calling him and couldn't sleep. In the morning I phoned his mum, who told me he'd been attacked, was in hospital and was really ill. My heart stopped."

Kirsty caught a bus to Hope Hospital, where Paul lay in a critical condition. A week later, his family agreed to turn off his ventilator.

"His relatives left me alone with him," says Kirsty. "His face wasn't marked, but he had a bandage around his head and a tube in his mouth. I put a picture of me and the scan in his hand, kissed his head and said: 'Make that kiss last for the rest of my life.' I told him I'd never, ever forget him and wouldn't let anyone take his place as the twins' dad. Then the machines were switched off."

K IRSTY sees the image of Paul lying in the hospital bed each time she closes her eyes.

Finding out that her babies due in September are boys was good news at a bleak time.

"Crofty would have been delighted," she beams. " I'm going to call one Matthew, because that's the name he chose, and the other Paul. When they kick I'd give anything to have him here to feel it too.

"And when I went for my second scan and saw the twins I was really happy, but because I was alone without him holding my hand I cried."

She had hoped to move into a council flat with Paul, but now wants to stay in her mum Linda's three-bedroom terraced house with her brother, Thomas, 13.

"Mum's been amazing," says Kirsty. "It's been really hard to keep going. But her boyfriend died and so she knows what I'm going through."

In between making plans for her new arrivals, she racks her brains for reasons why Paul was picked on. "He wasn't in a gang and hadn't been in trouble," she insists. "His whole life was me and the twins.

"All I know is that one minute he was in the pub, the next he was outside in the lane next to the Lord Nelson pub, being battered."

Why is still a complete mystery. A spokesman for Greater Manchester Police says: "This is a motiveless crime. Paul Croft was not known to police, did not have a violent past and wasn't in a big group on the night he was attacked.

"We still need witnesses to come forward. So far we have made 11 arrests. Anyone with any information should call us on 0161 856 8751 or anonymously on the Crimestoppers line, 0800 555 111."

Asked if there's anything she'd like to say to his killers, Kirsty doesn't let rip with a stream of obscenities or swear revenge. She just asks: "Why? Why him? I want to know why they took him away so I can explain to our babies.

"Someone knows who did this. Please come forward - if not for me or him, for his kids. They haven't just taken his, but my life, my future, the love of my life, my best friend and the kids' dad."

She is determined to keep Paul's memory alive. "I'm going to tell the twins their dad was absolutely amazing," she vows. "I'll tell them he loved them very much. I'll explain that it wasn't his choice to leave us and he'll be looking down on them and watching their every move.

"I've got a tin of his deodorant. I've got every text he ever sent me, and his jacket. But the twins are the most precious keepsake. They'll keep him alive for me. That's why I'm very lucky."

CAPTION(S):

SOLACE: Twin boys will help Kirsty to handle her pain; Picture: ANDY STENNING; POIGNANT: Kirsty's twins (circled) will never know their father; CROFTY: Kirsty's murdered fiance Paul
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 2, 2005
Words:1356
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