A WOMAN has written a book retelling the harrowing story of how her mum hid the bodies of her four dead baby sisters in plastic bins and canvas bags in their family home.

In 1998 Joanne Lee, then 26 made the gruesome discovery that her mum Bernadette Quirk had hidden a stillborn baby in a red plastic bin in her wardrobe at the family home on Harlow Close, Thatto Heath.

St Helens Star:

Bernadette leaving court in 2010

Thinking her mum was in a state of grief stricken shock, Joanne, who goes by Joa, helped her mum to bury the baby in the family grave at St Helens Cemetery - an illegal act.

She thought the horror ended there, but 11 years later in 2009, she discovered that her mum had also hidden the bodies of three other stillborn babies, one in the same red bin as the first and the others in a canvas bag she kept by her bed.

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These babies were born before the one she helped bury all those years prior, and they remained a secret for more than 20 years. Joa has now penned a book about her mum's dark secret called Silent Sisters.

Speaking to the Star, Joa, now 47 from Sutton Heath, said: "It all started in 1998 when my sister Cath, who was 16 then, found that a baby was in a red bin in mum's wardrobe and told me about it, it was our mum's and she had hidden it. I lost my first child John in May 1987, he was stillborn, so I felt sorry for her, I thought she was in shock and had panicked so I offered to help her bury the baby in the family grave.

"I knew it was illegal and I could have gone to prison but I thought that was it and I was helping the baby be at peace, but in 2009 I just felt sick to my stomach when we found another baby's body in the same red bin as the first in her wardrobe. I couldn't believe it so I told police and they found two others."

St Helens Star:

Bernadette and Joa in happier times

In 2010, Bernadette Quirk was spared jail despite admitting four counts of concealing a birth and was given a two-year community order. She died in February 2019, aged 64.

All four baby girls were been born with congenital disorders from the mid 80s to 1998.

Mum-of-three Joa, added: "I never spoke to my mum again, I couldn't. But saying that I do believe she was mentally ill and that her illness was ignored by her family as she was growing up.

"I can't forgive her for allowing me to bury my baby sister, knowing full well she had another three she was hiding in her house. The smell was horrendous and will never leave me."

Joa said the babies were the result of casual sexual encounters by Bernadette and that the identity of most of the fathers remain unknown.

St Helens Star:

Bernadette, who died in February this year

Joa, who works for the Deafness Resource Centre in St Helens, added: "What we all went through made us stronger, having everyone always talking about it and guessing what happened makes you grow up fast.

"That's why I wanted to write the book, with the help of Anne and Joe Cusack, because mum needed help, and people with mental health issues need help early on.

"It's been like having a weight lifted from my shoulder, I just wish mum could have read it"

Joa cremated all four of the babies who she named Angela Sheila, Katie Anne, Elizabeth Julia and lastly Angelica Helen, the baby she helped to bury all those years ago.