Susan Wynne-Willson left more conventional mothers looking rather dull in comparison
With her colourful hippie past, Susan Wynne-Willson left more conventional mothers looking rather dull in comparison.
The upper-middle-class daughter of an airline boss turned entrepreneur, boarding school- educated Susie was dubbed ‘the psychedelic debutante’. As such she appeared naked — save for swirling body paint — on the front cover of International Times magazine.
She shared a squat in London’s Covent Garden with her future husband, Peter, and guitarist Syd Barrett, founder of the rock band Pink Floyd.
With her long, dark hair and elfin face, she was — according to one Floyd biographer — the ‘archetypal hippie chick’.
Susan’s younger half-sister, Linde Gawler-Wright, remembers their father’s shock when Susie appeared on a TV documentary on the effects of the then legal LSD, saying ‘everything is paisley, man, everything is paisley’.
After marrying lighting engineer Peter Wynne-Willson, creator of Pink Floyd’s psychedelic shows, in 1969, Susie and her new husband moved to rural North Yorkshire.
Here, she segued from hippie chick to Earth mother, giving birth to three daughters, Alice, Rosa and Poppy — in 1972, 1974 and 1976. Son Dan was adopted in 1977.
The Wynne-Willson’s vegetarian, teetotal life in Barnby, near Whitby, seemed idyllic. They had a camper van, cats, dogs, a goat and a pony.
The children enjoyed music, drama and art classes or practised circus tricks in the beautiful garden of their rambling home, the Red House.
A wonderful cook, Susie took her brood to musical festivals where she set up a food stall. She meditated and visited her spiritual guru in India. But behind the patchouli-scented facade it was a more complex story, and today the family lies divided.
Two bitterly opposing versions of the Wynne-Willsons’ family history clashed in emotive scenes at Blackfriars Crown Court, where Wynne-Willson, 69, stood accused of historic abuse charges, before being cleared by a unanimous jury after only three hours.
During a sensational three-week trial, the mother of five had looked stricken as she’d listened to two of her children, Rosa and Dan, accuse her of being a ‘monster’ who hit, punched, kicked and slapped them, and bit Poppy in uncontrollable rages — allegations she told the court were ‘ridiculous’.
Daniel Wynne-Willson (left) and Rosa Aguelo de Guero (right) are seen leaving Blackfriars Crown Court earlier in the trial
Wynne-Willson told the court it was a fabrication, the result of ‘unorthodox’ regression therapy Rosa underwent in 2014 at an Australian clinic for a long-standing drug dependency.
She accused her daughter Rosa of taking a ‘kernal of truth’ and turning it into a ‘damaging’ and ‘wildly exaggerated’ fabrication.
Eldest daughter Alice, 45, a Cambridge graduate who works for Greenpeace, claimed Rosa was a troubled woman who’d ‘bullied’ and ‘manipulated’ her sibling and ‘guilt-tripped’ her father into supporting her allegations.
Describing her younger sister as ‘extraordinary’ but ‘intimidating’, she said mother and daughter had been ‘very close’ until Rosa returned from Australia and relapsed. The picture of abuse Rosa had painted, Alice said, ‘is something I absolutely do not recognise’.
Alice said their mother supported single-parent Rosa when she became pregnant with her own daughter, Montana, now 19, often looking after her.
She claimed Rosa started to blame her mother for all her woes after reading child abuse survivor blogs and ‘misery memoir’ A Child Called It and identifying with them.
Rosa told her family she needed to go to the police as part of her ‘healing’ process.
The defence claimed Rosa had been ‘encouraged’ to build a case against her mother by other survivors of child abuse with knowledge of the court process.
Wynne-Willson told the court she’d initially offered to go to the police with Rosa ‘to make things right for her’ when she first mentioned it, but her daughter declined, saying ‘not now, not yet’.
Colourful past: Susan Wynne-Wilson in the International Times Magazine during the swinging sixties
The defendant said that, as a mother and grandmother, she ‘wanted to heal this situation’ but was ‘totally shocked’ when she was invited by police to attend the station to hear ‘massively exaggerated’ allegations put to her.
She described all the charges as ‘false’.
The court also heard that both Rosa and Dan had spoken to therapists about their childhood experiences years before they went to the police in 2015.
Wynne-Willson denied five counts of child cruelty to a person under 16 and three counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm between 1979 and 1993, but after being cleared by the jury, her only concern was for her daughter, telling the Mail: ‘My priority is my daughter, I am very worried about Rosa. I love her very much.’
But today the family lies bitterly divided, and the Mail can reveal the extraordinary story of a woman whose hippie trail would ultimately lead her to the dock.
Born in South Africa to a British father and half-Argentinian mother, Susan Gawler-Wright — an only child known as Susie to friends and family — moved to Kent when she was very young. Her parents divorced when she was 11. After school she worked in the Lego department of Hamley’s in London, but was swept up by the ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’ Swinging Sixties culture.
She met Peter Wynne-Willson, son of a design engineer and a journalist, on the hippie trail. Also upper middle-class, his uncle, Basil Wynne-Willson, was Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1921 to 1937.
Expelled from Oundle public school in 1961 for taking part in a CND march, Peter became an electrician at a repertory theatre in Derbyshire before heading for London.
He was a lighting operator on the musical Oliver! when he met Syd Barrett, and in 1966 created Pink Floyd’s first cutting-edge psychedelic light shows.
His contribution features in the V&A museum’s exhibition on the band — he famously used condoms to create one lighting effect.
Pink Floyd, left to right: Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Syd Barrett and Rick Wright
Offered two unrenovated cottages in Yorkshire by Peter’s family, to help them onto the housing ladder, their first child, Alice, was born in 1972.
Told by doctors that she had secondary infertility after failing to conceive again, the couple applied to adopt.
But by the time they were matched with Dan, Susie had unexpectedly fallen pregnant with Rosa, and then Poppy.
But after seeing newborn Dan in hospital, the couple decided to proceed with the adoption.
With four children under the age of five, the court heard that Wynne-Willson, a full-time mum, felt lonely, isolated, overwhelmed and unsupported.
Susie wanted to move to York, but when they sold their cottage, they bought nearby Red House instead, stretching their finances.
Their ‘tempestuous’ marriage collapsed, and Peter moved into an adjoining barn.
Relations soured further when Susie started a new relationship and Peter’s business was unexpectedly beset with cash flow problems.
Banks foreclosed on debts, bailiffs were sent in and their home was threatened with repossession.
Loyal to her mother: Activist Alice Wynne-Wilson, 45
So, in 1979, Susie moved back to 2 Earlham Street in London, the squat they’d left behind a decade earlier, with their three youngest children.
Alice joined them after finishing her school term and Peter moved into an empty squat next door to be close to the children.
Peter, in his evidence, claimed his ex-wife treated their children as an ‘encumbrance’ as she embraced her new life, falling pregnant by her new boyfriend with fifth child Billy, born in 1982.
The court heard that Alice, Poppy and Dan were so traumatised by the loss of their ‘idyllic’ life in Yorkshire they regularly wet the bed.
They squabbled, fought, tried to run away and were critical of boyfriend Rick, who left the family when Billy was eight months old. There was further trauma when the squat burned down, destroying all their furniture and possessions.
The council rehoused the family in a £700,000 North London mansion flat and Peter later moved back in, reconciling with his ex-wife, although tensions remained high.
One extended family member, who asked to remain anonymous, said this week that for years Susie hid whatever problems she faced from them — presenting a positive front in public.
The family member told the Mail: ‘Susie always showed a good front. She was skinny and attractive, wearing her long hair loosely up and showing off her legs in tights and short skirts, but nothing too revealing.
‘She was fast-talking and charming and made people laugh. She gave every impression of being a good mother, and after she moved to London she had a penchant for helping acquaintances who were down on their luck.
‘Susie was very good at being nice, but she does have feelings, and this whole bloody thing has been awful.’
Ashleigh Trezise, 46, who has known the family since she was ten years old, told the court she had been shocked by the allegations of abuse.
The only child of a single working parent, she spent many hours at the family’s North London flat with best friend Alice, and had even been on holiday with them all to Cornwall.
She described Susie as ‘eccentric’, but said she’d never witnessed any violence. ‘It was a fun environment,’ she said, adding that any arguments she had heard sounded ‘normal’.
Friends described Susan as ‘kind, honest and loyal’ and ‘devoted’ to her children. Rosa and Dan, in their evidence, claimed the abuse had been hidden from others and their father — taking place when he was either at work or had been forced from the home after a violent row.
Rosa had tearfully claimed in her evidence how their mother would lie on a mattress all day in the London squat, ordering them to line up in front of her to be hit, and had once slammed her head in a door. Susan said this never happened.
Rosa further alleged that her mother had stuffed soiled underpants into Dan’s mouth, dragged him by the hair and had held his head under water in a bathroom sink to stop him screaming.
Susan described this incident in her evidence as accidental, a ‘ghastly Buster Keaton moment’.
‘I was in the doorway and Rosa came up behind me, and as I went forward, they made contact with Dan’s face,’ she said, comparing it to a scene from a Hollywood silent movie.
‘I was horrified, Dan was horrified and Rosa was horrified. Dan must have been five or six. He can’t have known it was not deliberate,’ she said
Rosa, who ran away from home aged 14, claimed her mother had once thrown a toy elephant at younger sister Poppy so forcefully that she had needed hospital treatment for a wound to the head.
Susan denied deliberately throwing a toy at Poppy, saying it had been a terrible accident. Pregnant with Billy at the time and feeling nauseous, she said she had hurled a toy when the children’s noise and commotion woke her.
Rosa, in her evidence had claimed she was treated as slave, forced to clean constantly until her hands were red raw. Her mother, she alleged, had once bashed her head against the toilet bowl as she cleaned it with Vim.
It was so miserable, Rosa claimed, she saw her younger siblings eating blue beads in the hope that they would die.
Her mother told the court that none of this happened.
Dan Wynne-Willson, 40, now an assistant head teacher at Uckfield Community College in East Sussex, alleged it was like growing up in hell.
Aged eight or nine, he said he used to fantasise about saving up enough money to have his mother killed. He claimed in his evidence that he’d twice turned up at school with black eyes, but the court heard there was no record of any concerns at the school and his mother replied ‘absolutely not’ when asked if she had ever punched him.
After graduating from university, Dan said he had cut contact, and in 2003 told his mother she was not invited to his wedding because of the way he’d been treated as a child.
Their father, Peter, 71, giving evidence for the prosecution, supported Rosa and Dan’s account, and accused his ex-wife of being a ‘tyrant’ who had once stabbed him in the back in front of youngest daughter Poppy.
Susan denied this. However, she tearfully admitted there had been occasions when she’d ‘lost control’ as she tried to impose order on their chaotic lives and felt on the verge of insanity, begging her husband for help.
Alice, in her evidence, described how, as teenagers, both she and Rosa became involved in the rave party scene — testing their mother further.
Rosa, she said ‘went from that kind of lifestyle to get in with some really difficult people, she was a crack addict for a number of years. I am really devastated to say that, but I have to say that’.
While Alice went to Cambridge University to read Geography, Rosa went to live in the Canary Islands, returning home to her mother after falling pregnant.
At first, Alice told the court, Rosa blamed her father for everything, but after returning from her spiritual retreat in Australia she had started to blame her mother instead.
Alice, the court heard, had taken a step back from her younger siblings when she heard family history being misremembered by Rosa.
‘I was really worried about Rosa,’ said Alice, who told her sister ‘she would not find any happiness going to court and may find herself in a worse state’.
After the case, a family member told the Mail: ‘Rosa loves her mother. She didn’t want retribution and she is not after punishment. She brought this case because she wanted closure.’