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BIG Brother's Vanessa cheated death when gunmen burst into her local church and killed 11 people, including her best friend.

South African-born Vanessa was 15 when the attack happened in St James's Church in Cape Town in 1993.

There were also 50 wounded when five terrorists stormed the church and threw hand grenades attached to tins of nails into the congregation. They also opened fire with AK47 rifles.

But for a twist of fate Vanessa would have been in the church, and caught up in the violence, but she had gone out with her father instead that evening.

However, she got home to the news that her friend Richard O'Kill - who she once dated - had been killed in the atrocity.

Richard, 17, who was born in Devon, had heroically thrown himself on top of two girls to protect them, but was shot in the head and died instantly.

Vanessa's mum Ann last night told the Sunday Mirror: "What happened was a terrible tragedy. Vanessa was utterly devastated and it affected her very badly.

"She would usually have been at the church but that night, by chance, she was with her father, thank goodness.

"Richard was the son of a minister of the church. He was a lovely, special lad and he was always round at our house. He and Vanessa were great friends.

"At Richard's funeral, Vanessa read the eulogy and spoke about what he meant to her. It was incredibly moving."

The attacks were carried out by five young members of the Azanian People's Organisation - an ultra left-wing organisation which advocated giving South Africa's land back to its black residents.

The incident took place on July 25, 1993, just eight months before the country's first democratic elections.

Originally from Barnstaple, Richard had emigrated to South Africa with his parents Clive and Mary O'Kill.

But when they returned to England in 1993, Richard decided to stay on for a year to finish his exams.

Ex-clergyman Clive, who now lives in Bideford, Dorset, and is a teacher, said yesterday: "Vanessa and Richard were close and it must have been terrible for her.

"We still miss Richard very much, as do many people who knew him and were close to him."

The murders rocked Vanessa and caused her to question her Christian faith.

Ann said: "It turned her against the church. At the time she had strong Christian beliefs, but after that she questioned how God could have allowed something like that to happen.

"I told her it was a human act and not a Godly act, but I don't think Vanessa will ever get over it totally. It's always with her and she did refer to it once in the Big Brother house.

"As far as I know she hasn't been to church since she moved to England. That incident has ruined it for her."

Ann, originally from Harrogate in Yorkshire, also told how Vanessa was seeking TV fame and fortune by appearing on Big Brother, and wants to become the next Gabby Logan. She said Vanessa's appearance on the show had divided the family - particularly her "relationship" with body-building housemate Jason Cowan.

"She's definitely not interested in Jason. I can tell by her body language.," she said.

"When they first snogged, they were going round the house saying, 'Shall we do it here?' It was so obvious. I think the two of them came up with this 'getting together' thing as a ploy.

Ann also told of her fears during last week's infamous "fight night", which led to Emma Greenwood's eviction.

She said: "I was utterly horrified. I had to text the Big Brother producers to ask them to get my daughter out of there. I was terrified for her."


VICTIM: Pal Richard O'Kill; CHILDHOOD: Vanessa in South Africa, aged 7, with brother Richard; HORROR: Inside St James's church after the terrorists' ruthless attack; FAMILY SPLIT: With mum Ann
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 27, 2004
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