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