Fa­tal trip to chippy?

I’ll never get over my son’s bru­tal mur­der, but the legacy he in­spired is so pow­er­ful

Chat - - Contents - Tri­cia Ni­chol­son, 78, Shrews­bury

As I picked up the phone, my heart soared – it was my son!

Sit­ting on the sofa, I was ready for a good catch-up, but then Ben, 25,dropped a bomb­shell.

‘Mum,’ he said. ‘I’m quit­ting uni. I’m go­ing to be a rock star!’ My heart sank. Ben was at Can­ter­bury, study­ing Me­dia and Mu­sic Pro­duc­tion as a ma­ture stu­dent. He’d worked so hard to get there...

‘Please don’t drop out,’ I urged. ‘So few peo­ple make it big in mu­sic.’

‘You’ll see, Mum,’ he chirped. ‘I’ll make loads of money and look af­ter you.’

I sup­pose I shouldn’t have been sur­prised. Mu­sic had al­ways been Ben’s big love.

I’d in­tro­duced him to ev­ery­thing, from clas­si­cal to pop, when he was a kid.

I’ll never for­get the way his face lit up when I bought him his first sec­ond-hand gui­tar, age 13.

He’d taught him­self to play with books from the li­brary, and had been in bands on and off ever since.

With his trendy clothes and mul­let hair­cut, he looked just like the groups I saw on telly.

Af­ter start­ing at Can­ter­bury, he’d joined a new band, and even recorded a track. And now he had stars in his eyes.

Ben was an eter­nal op­ti­mist, burst­ing with pos­i­tiv­ity. I knew I’d never talk him out of fol­low­ing his dreams. So...

‘You have my sup­port,’ I told him, hop­ing I was wrong to be scep­ti­cal. Sadly, I wasn’t. Ben’s band never did take off, but he never gave up.

Over the next 10 years, he spent his time trav­el­ling the UK, form­ing new bands.

Of­ten, he’d end up un­der my roof again. He got by with tem­po­rary jobs in fac­to­ries and ware­houses, but his heart just wasn’t in it.

‘I’m go­ing to try busk­ing,’ he told me de­ter­minedly one day.

‘That’s the same as beg­ging,’ I grum­bled.

I vowed never to watch his act on the streets – and I never did. But I heard from friends how good he was. And I still felt so proud of him.

One day, when Ben was help­ing me in the gar­den, he didn’t seem his usual, happy self.

‘I’ve wasted my life,’ he told me. ‘I blew it when I dropped out of uni.’

I felt so sorry for him, didn’t know what to say. Ben’s mood be­came re­ally low. He drowned his sor­rows, in­sisted on mov­ing out and liv­ing in a tent nearby.

Noth­ing I could do or say could change his mind.

When win­ter came round, I was so relieved to find Ben stand­ing on my doorstep.

‘Come in and get warm,’ I said, clutch­ing his icy fin­gers. ‘Happy days!’ he grinned. De­spite his trou­bles, I knew that my Ben was back.

He started go­ing to The Ark, a lo­cal char­ity-run cen­tre for vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

Ben loved play­ing his gui­tar for the oth­ers there.

In Septem­ber 2012, Ben – by now 43 – popped out with a friend of his.

The next morn­ing, two po­lice of­fi­cers were at my door. ‘Can we come in?’ one said. I nod­ded, open­ing up. Then... ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you that Ben has been at­tacked,’ the of­fi­cer told me.

And as the po­lice told me the de­tails, a night­mare un­folded.

The night be­fore, Ben had stopped at the chippy on his way home.

There, two young men had been angling for a fight.

But my son was no fighter,

Two young men had been angling for a fight

and had left the shop.

The lads had fol­lowed Ben to an al­ley­way – then launched a ter­ri­fy­ingly vi­o­lent at­tack.

‘Which hos­pi­tal is he in?’ I asked, des­per­ately. ‘I have to see him.’

Then the of­fi­cers shook their heads.

‘I’m so sorry…’ one be­gan.

Through my sobs, I learnt my son had been found sev­eral hours later and rushed to hos­pi­tal.

Ben had suf­fered ter­ri­ble brain in­juries from the at­tack.

As he wasn’t car­ry­ing ID, they hadn’t been able to trace me.

‘Two hours ago, the doc­tors had to turn off Ben’s life sup­port,’ the po­lice of­fi­cer con­tin­ued, his face grim. Ben was dead. I heard some­one scream and re­alised that it was me. Dev­as­tat­ing. The po­lice in­ves­ti­gated and two lads were charged with mur­der.

Be­cause of the court case to come, three post­mortems were car­ried out on Ben’s body.

We were forced to wait months to lay him to rest.

Dur­ing those lonely days, I’d have given any­thing to see my Ben’s beau­ti­ful face just one more time.

To hear him come through the door, strum his beloved gui­tar. Never again. At Ben’s fu­neral, we played Al­ways Look On The Bright Side of Life, from his favourite Monty Python film.

As the cheer­ful tune rang out, I

prayed with all my heart my boy was at peace.

In time, I mus­tered up all my strength to go to court.

Ste­wart Kevin Do­ran, 22, pleaded guilty to mur­der, and got a min­i­mum of 16 years.

Bradley Davies, 18, de­nied the charge, and his case went to trial.

I went ev­ery day, lis­ten­ing in agony to how the evil pair had fol­lowed my vul­ner­a­ble son, then set upon him.

They’d at­tacked him not once, but twice, then left him for dead on the pave­ment. They’d kicked my boy, smashed a wine bot­tle over his head and stamped re­peat­edly on his face, leav­ing him drenched in blood.

My heart broke to see the hor­rific pho­tos of his in­juries. The fi­nal ones ever taken of him...

But, as Ben’s mum, I felt it was my duty to con­sign them to mem­ory, to hear ev­ery aw­ful de­tail.

The jury found Davies guilty and, in May 2013, he was jailed for a min­i­mum of 14 years. Now, I still suf­fer with post trau­matic stress syn­drome, brought on by the court case.

But some­thing good has come out of Ben’s death.

The lo­cal com­mu­nity hold an an­nual event called The Big Busk, where hun­dreds gather to play mu­sic and cel­e­brate Ben’s life to raise money for The Ark.

It just goes to show how very much loved he was.

Ben never did be­come a rock star, but he touched so many lives with his mu­sic.

My big­gest re­gret is re­fus­ing to watch Ben busk.

Now, I al­ways stop to lis­ten to buskers and give them money.

And, ev­ery year, when I see all those mu­si­cians come to­gether in my Ben’s mem­ory, I’m so very proud.

It’s his legacy... and one that he would’ve re­ally loved.

Ben touched so many lives with his mu­sic

Killers: Do­ran ...and Davies

Ben at 17 Liv­ing on: The Big Busk

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