Published: 00:01, 05 August 2017 |
Updated: 09:38, 06 August 2017
A heartbroken mother has revealed the agony of learning her "beautiful daughter" had been found dead on train tracks in Herne Bay.
Hayley Peebles says her heart sank as she found 16-year-old Taiyah's bedroom empty just moments after reading that a body had been discovered on the railway line.
The 46-year-old had assumed the teenager was sleeping in at their home in Spenser Road, Herne Bay, after a night out in Whitstable.
But alarm bells started to ring when Taiyah's panicked boyfriend and best friend knocked at the door the following morning to say they had not heard from her.
"Taiyah normally gets up mid-morning, as teenagers do, so I didn’t think anything of it," said Mrs Peebles.
"But then her boyfriend Adam and best friend Leah came round and said they had not heard from her at all.
"I went to Taiyah’s bedroom and she wasn’t there.
"I instantly knew something was wrong as she hadn’t texted me to say she was staying out, as she usually would.
"Then Leah told me that on Facebook it was saying that a girl's body had been found at Herne Bay train station and they thought it might be Taiyah."
Mrs Peebles, who lives just half-a-mile away, rushed to the town’s police station in Gordon Road and told officers Taiyah was missing.
“It was turning into my worst nightmare,” she said.
“The police asked me what she was wearing and I couldn’t remember, but officers who went to the scene described her clothes.
“As soon as they said she was wearing a red top, black shorts and trainers, I had a horrendous sinking feeling because I knew it was Taiyah.
“They later found an ankle bracelet on her with her name on it, which confirmed the worst.”
Taiyah’s body had been spotted on the Thanet-bound line at about 6.45am last Tuesday by the driver of the first Ramsgate train of the day.
Five London-bound trains had already passed on the opposite side of the tracks that morning.
An inquest was opened on Tuesday, hearing she had been out in Whitstable with friends the night before.
As they travelled back to Herne Bay at about 11pm, Taiyah went to use the toilet and became separated from the group.
CCTV shows her getting off the train at Herne Bay alone, with her friends alighting separately and leaving the station.
At some point over the next eight hours she ended up on the tracks, feared electrocuted by a live rail beyond the platform towards Thanet. She was not struck by a train.
Her mum, a kitchen assistant at Birchington primary school, says it is a mystery why Taiyah was on the tracks.
“Maybe she was confused after becoming separated from her friends,” she said.
“It is dark down that end of the platform. But they weren’t playing around, as has been suggested, and police are sure no one else was involved.
“I know her friends who were with her on the night are feeling bad and suffering from guilt, but I’ve told them all it was just a tragic accident. No one is to blame.”
Tragic Taiyah Peebles will be remembered as a shining star who lit up any room she walked into.
With her mischievous sense of humour and love of life, the 16-year-old made friends easily and was fiercely loyal to those closest to her.
Such was her popularity that huge crowds have gathered daily at the scene of death, with the forecourt of Herne Bay railway station adorned with flowers and poignant tributes.
"She was a bright, shining star who lit up any room when she walked in" - Hayley Peebles
Further vigils have been held across the town, offering some comfort to Taiyah’s devastated mother, her sisters Stacey, 30 and Delcie, 21, and brother Shai, 26.
Speaking for the first time at length about the tragedy, Mrs Peebles says the last words she exchanged with Taiyah were “I love you”.
“She was a bright, shining star who lit up any room when she walked in,” she added.
“She was beautiful and creative and it’s been a great comfort to us to know she was so loved, and touched so many hearts.”
Taiyah had just finished her GCSEs at the Spires Academy in Sturry and was due to start an art and design course at Canterbury College in September.
“She was so happy and looking forward to starting her college course,” her mum said.
“Taiyah was interested in art from as soon as she could pick up crayons. The house was always full of her drawings.
“She just loved life and was a real bubbly character who had her own dress style and often drew clothes.
“She was always there for her friends if they needed her, which I think is why she had so many.”
Mrs Peebles recalls how Taiyah’s cheeky smile often got her out of trouble growing up.
“I think being the youngest of the children she was a bit spoiled and got away with more when she was naughty,” she said.
“She only had to look at me with her big brown eyes and give me a cheeky smile and all was forgiven.
“She was fun and mischievous, but also fiercely loyal and caring towards her friends.”
Taiyah had been a pupil at Margate’s Hartsdown Academy before transferring to the Spires.
The Sturry school’s principal Nikki Mattin wrote a card to the family following her death.
“When you think of Taiyah, you just have to smile,” she wrote.
“Her sense of time that resulted in her always being late and her desire to wear the uniform according to her own style would often drive us crazy.
“But it was this independence, coupled with her sense of justice and strong friendships, that made her unique and such a valued part of our community.
“She was popular, loyal, creative and talented. She will be missed, but also fondly remembered by all that knew her.”
Taiyah’s family are now planning to give her a fitting send-off at her funeral in two weeks.
Mrs Peebles is grateful to wellwishers who have already raised more than £1,400 to help cover the costs.
“We would like it if everyone could wear or carry something red, which was Taiyah’s favourite colour,” she added.
“We want to keep it as informal as we can, which is how she would have wanted it.
“She loved to party and was the life and soul, so we want it to be a celebration of her life.”
The funeral takes place at Thanet Crematorium at 10.45am on Thursday, August 17.
Meanwhile, a magnificent mural of Taiyah has been painted in the teenager’s former home town of Margate by a family friend.
The striking image of the teenager takes pride of place on the side of a building in Marine Gardens often used by street artists.
It was painted by family friend Vince Pugh, who had known Taiyah since she was a toddler.
“It came as a complete surprise to us,” said her mum.
“I had no idea he was doing it, but it’s a beautiful memory of Taiyah.”
Thanet District Council has denied claims the tribute - which bears the words "In memory of Taiyah Peebles. Taken too young. 2001-2017. Rest in Peace" - might be painted over.
A spokesman said: “The memorial mural was painted with permission.
"We are always happy for artworks to be displayed with prior consent from the land owners to ensure they are not offensive or such like.
“The side walls have been painted over as they were 'tags'.
“The council does not, however have any plans to paint over the memorial mural.”
There has been an outpouring of grief from Taiyah’s many friends who laid flowers and messages of sympathy at the train station.
They also held a candlelit vigil under the clocktower on Herne Bay seafront in the evening.
On Sunday night, a special service was organised at Christ Church in William Street to pray for the youth of Herne Bay in light of the tragedy.
British Transport Police officers remained at the station over the weekend and this week to offer reassurances to rail users.
On Wednesday, a week after the tragedy, her family took away the tributes from the forecourt at the request of Network Rail.
Taiyah’s mother Hayley said: “It was good of Network Rail to let the tributes stay for a week, but inevitably the flowers will perish.
"We are keeping all the messages and cards to put in a special keepsake album.”
A fundraising page, set up by a family friend to cover funeral costs, has already raised almost half of its £3,000 target.
She said: “I wanted to set this up to help her loving family have one less thing to worry about while they are processing her passing.
“Taiyah was loved by many and that shows from the outpouring of condolences on her Facebook page and those of her mum and siblings.
"Taiyah deserves the biggest and bestest send-off to celebrate her life.”
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