DAY THE LAUGHTER DIED
But six months into their relationship, the pair of them were on-again, offagain, like Christmas lights. Always rowing… ‘If it’s not working then finish it for good,’ I told Carl gently. In September 2016, Chloe moved out.
Carl didn’t want to hurt her, though, and was desperate to stay in touch. ‘It’s not easy being friends with an ex… ’ I told him.
But he was 20 then, and old enough to make his own mistakes.
So I didn’t say anything when he went out to meet Chloe on 4 October to play Pokémon Go in Margate town centre.
Later that afternoon, he was in his room while I fiddled with my phone in the lounge. Scrolling through Facebook, I stopped short.
‘Oh, Carl,’ I groaned, seeing a picture he’d posted. It was a row of bright blue willies with a woman leapfrogging over them.
Above it, he’d written, How most girls get over their ex.
He didn’t realise how offensive things like this could be.
Filing it under ‘issues to talk about’, I scrolled on, and by the time Carl came downstairs at just before 9pm, I’d forgotten all about it.
‘I’m off to Tesco,’ he said. ‘Want a lift?’ I asked, thinking he meant the small local one just nearby.
‘Nah, I’m going to Mcdonald’s, too, so I’ll go to the superstore in the retail park,’ he replied.
He’d already had dinner with me, my husband Ben and his four younger siblings, but Carl and his food were a true love story.
At 6ft 1in and 15st, he’d think nothing of having two tubs of Ben & Jerry’s as an after-work snack!
So, sighing, I waved him off on his walk.
Around 10pm, I rang Carl to see if he wanted a lift back. When he didn’t answer, I rang again. Then again.
‘That’s weird,’ I muttered to Ben.
Carl was surgically attached to his phone.
‘You want to go up there?’ Ben asked.
‘Maybe we could just drive by the retail park and see,’ I thought… But I shook my head.
No. If Carl had met up with some mates, I didn’t want to embarrass him.
So, instead, we headed to bed. At midnight, I woke to a knock at the door.
‘Are you Carl Gregory’s mum?’ one of the police officers standing there asked.
I nodded, led them into the dining room and sat down.
I wasn’t at all worried. Even when one said, ‘We’re really sorry to tell you that your son has been killed. Carl’s been murdered.’ ‘No, he hasn’t,’ I spat.
The officers both looked at me. ‘Ben,’ I said, calling my husband through. ‘Go upstairs and get Carl, will you?’
He ran upstairs.
‘He’s not here,’ he called. ‘Well, it’s a mistake,’ I blustered. Carl was out somewhere.
He was fine.
But the officers were having none of it.
‘We wouldn’t come here and tell you this unless we were 100 per cent sure it was him,’ one said.
They must have left at some point. I must’ve called family, seen visitors, broken the news to Carl’s little brother, his three little sisters…
But I don’t remember any of that.
Instead, I remember sitting at the front window, dry-eyed watching the world go by.
‘How can they be going to work?’ I’d think, inspecting passers-by. Or school. Or walking the dog.
How on earth was the world still turning out there?
When inside my own house, inside my head, everything had ground to a halt.
It was only when I crawled up to Carl’s loft the same morning, that I finally broke down. I sat on his bed in his stark-white room, surrounded by kids’ toys and piles of clothes that looked like an explosion in a paint factory.
On the wall, he’d pinned up the ticket stubs from every concert or event he’d ever been to. Every one was a little marker that he was just like his friends.
There, in that silent room, I finally cried.
It was real.
Carl wasn’t coming back. Three days after his death, the police took me and Ben to the retail park where Carl had died.
They pointed up at the Hobbycraft store. Outside was a stretch of walkway. Grey paving slabs that separated the craft store, a pound shop and a kids’ toy store from a car park.
It was busy, impersonal.
But it had happened there.
They couldn’t tell me too much, just that two men had been arrested and all the evidence pointed to Carl having been choked to death.
Then they drove us to the same hospital that I’d taken a laughing Carl to all those years before when he’d had his first scrape with the bullies.
This time he lay too still on a hospital bed. He looked asleep.
A single, tiny graze on the side of his forehead. I reached out for him.
‘It’s OK. You can wake up now,’ I told him.
‘Carl, you can wake up,’ I repeated.
But he didn’t. He couldn’t. My heart shattered as I looked at his eyes that would never open again; the lips that’d never tell me another stupid joke.
I stroked the hair from his face and gently kissed his forehead.
For a solid week afterwards, I stuttered every word I tried to speak.
A month on, I got through Carl’s funeral on autopilot. His flowers
Carl, it’s OK. You can wake up now
were coloured to match the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
We left Margate crematorium as the theme tune to the show played out.
‘He’s in a better place,’ wellmeaning friends kept saying.
But it made me want to scream. The best place for Carl was with me.
It always had been.
In March 2017, I dragged myself to Maidstone Crown Court, determined to get justice.
There, I came face-to-face with two men I’d never even heard of – John Dickson, 27, and Christopher Pollard, 20.
Both denied murder and manslaughter, and looked to blame the other.
I’d imagined anyone capable of such evil to look like a monster, but they were both ordinary young fellas.
The court heard that, on the afternoon of his death, Carl had heard a rumour that Chloe had slept with someone else.
That’s what’d led him to post that picture on Facebook.
Knowing Carl the way I did, I knew he wouldn’t have had a clue how offensive it was.
But Chloe had told her friend Pollard that Carl had called her ‘a slag and a tramp’.
He’d then messaged Carl goading him into a fight and threatening our family.
That night, when I thought he was going for a burger, Carl had known he was going out to protect the people he loved.
I’d always protected him. To his mind, he must have thought he was protecting me.
There was no way he could have known he’d never come home to us.
Tears blurred my vision as CCTV of that night was played.
In the footage, Pollard and Carl met outside the shops. Pollard then kicked Carl on the thigh. Carl tried to hit back.
Of course, Carl being Carl, he’d missed.
Then, out of nowhere, Dickson ran across the car park. He was Pollards’ mate, there for back-up. He grabbed Carl in a choke-hold and dragged him to the ground, but Carl managed to break free.
Dickson grabbed him again, his arm around Carl’s neck. This time he didn’t let go.
An expert testified that it takes at least 60 to 90 seconds to suffocate someone to death. So, though the video seemed to drag on for ever, it must have been at least a minute that Dickson took to steal the breath from my boy.
When Carl was at last lifeless, the two men calmly walked away. But even that wasn’t enough. Dickson turned back, lifted his foot and stamped down on Carl’s head as he lay motionless on the ground. Out of everything, that was the bit that broke me.
Carl was no threat at any stage. I knew that. The boy couldn’t have fought his way out of a paper bag. But even if they didn’t know that, what danger did he pose as he lay on the ground?
It was a workman dealing with the tills in the pound shop who had called for help.
In the end, the jury took just nine hours to convict Dickson of murder. Pollard was cleared of all charges.
As he was released, he wiped tears from his eyes. In the gallery, I burst into tears of my own.
‘Carl, I let you down,’ I thought. ‘I’m so sorry.’
The next day, I was back in court to see Dickson sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 18 years.
Judge Williams told him ‘this was a truly senseless killing’ that all began ‘with a futile argument on social media’.
She added, ‘Pollard then sent deeply unpleasant and threatening messages to Carl Gregory, and this included threats to his family…
‘Mr Gregory was goaded into meeting him at Westwood Cross, goaded into going there alone… ’
The judge then used the case to highlight the dangers of social media, saying, ‘It shows how an argument can escalate, and be blown out of all proportion because of the speed of communication.’
As he was led away to jail having shown no flicker of remorse, I looked at Dickson, who had scratches on his face, and I hoped they were from my Carl.
I hoped they’d never fade; that he’d be forced to look at what he’d done every day for the rest of his life. Because not a second goes by when I don’t think about my boy.
In some ways, life is completely different now. After dedicating my life to being Carl’s carer, I’m now working at an opticians.
I’ve got a turtle tattooed on my shoulder blade to commemorate my boy’s laid-back attitude to life.
In many ways, everything has stood still for almost two years.
Carl’s ashes sit in the living room waiting until I’m strong enough to scatter them.
I can’t even dust his pictures, as it’d break me to look at his beautiful face for too long.
The face of my innocent, naive clown. Murdered for nothing more than a stupid joke.
So many flowers were left at the scene
I hope Dickson’s scratches serve as a reminder of the evil he’s done
My Carl wrote #loveher about Chloe on his Instagram selfie
Carl’s attitude to life will inspire me every day of mine
The joke posted on Facebook that led to my son’s senseless murder KILLER PUNCHLINE