Speaking on the eve of a Christmas trip to meet in-laws at her husband’s Nan’s house in Dorset, Sally Westacott said the effort was being undermined by vague social aims and confusion about the rationale for the Bristol family’s continued involvement in the annual visits.
Mrs Westacott, one of the Westacott family’s most respected parents, broke ranks from the official policy line, saying, ‘From our family’s point of view, we should be trying to spell out some clearer, measurable objectives that would lead to some sort of time-line for eventually withdrawing from that theatre.
‘Having gone every year, we cannot unilaterally stay away, but we should not consider having an open-ended commitment there. We’ve got to have an exit strategy based on a series of measurable outcomes.’
She said this could include some clearer benchmarks on the definition of ‘catching up with Uncle Dave’, an agreed timetable for present exchange, and an open and frank debate on whether they were staying overnight.
Although in public there was still broad support from family leaders for the visits to Nan, many in the extended family privately acknowledged that it had been a mistake to initiate such an unsustainable Christmas presence in Dorset, that ‘cheering Nan up’ was probably not a measurable or attainable long-term objective, and that this ill-defined strategy was a quagmire waiting to happen.
Morale amongst the Westacott troops has also suffered in recent years because although they were initially welcomed when the visits started in 2003, that welcome had transformed into resentment and, at times, open hostility from Nan.
Sally’s husband, Mark Westacott, who was key in persuading his brothers and their families to instigate the visits in the face of vocal opposition from their children, still insists that he wouldn’t do anything differently, despite intelligence presented at the time that Nan ‘could literally go at any time’ turning out to be false.