Real People - - NEWS - He­len God­den, 46, Rams­gate, Kent

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

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