If you’re sitting comfortably then I’ll begin,
Monday 26th Nov 2018 this all kicked off for me, from what was a bog standard day at work, I got home and started to prep dinner when the doorbell went, opened the door to a police officer I vaguely knew from Wednesbury, didn’t think anything of this as I see coppers all day long being in the job. We went into the dining room and then he hit me with the news we all hate to do in our job, “Steve, I’m so sorry to tell you that your brother has been killed this afternoon, he has been hit by a HGV while he was on his mountain bike”
Bang, it hit me as this news does with any family members we say this too. The officer gave me as much detail as possible that he could but if this news couldn’t get any worse, it did, he informed me that the driver had tested positive for cocaine. My wife and I had actually spoke prior to this news about our concerns for the driver, that he would have to live with this all his life, a tragic accident that would affect his life but on hearing this news my concern disappeared and turned to anger, a professional driver in a 32 tonne lorry off his face on Coke at 2.30 on a Monday afternoon. Little did I know at this time just how that anger would stay with me, affect me and change my life.
At this time I had no idea of what was going on at work in my team, the work they were already putting in place to make sure everything was in place for me. I learned of this much later and still have no idea how I can ever try to replay this support. I took a call that evening with my Sarge, this was the first of many many calls and chats I would receive. I think most of us have experienced a friend or colleague that has lost someone and what do you say to them? What do you say apart from sorry? We’re here for you? Well this was managed fantastically, allowing me to break my heart over the phone, my team allowed me to balanced my grief, anger and confusion with a proverbial arm around my shoulder, leaving me knowing that I had the teams support any time of the day.
While the next few weeks were took up with arranging my brother’s funeral and dealing with all the personal side of his life and as draining as this was the anger inside me was still there, bubbling away under the surface and regularly breaking out while dealing with faceless companies that were supposed to be helping me through all this. Both my parents died several years ago and I think I coped as well as I could with their deaths but this was something different, my brother wasn’t meant to be killed, he wasn’t old, he wasn’t ill so with all this and I have learnt because of the actual violent traumatic way he was killed I was struggling with coming to terms with what happened. One thing however was keeping me going and that was the thought of the driver being charged, convicted and sent to jail, however the more I thought about this the angrier I became. I was now fully aware of Paul’s death, the driver had left a nearby yard in his lorry, 32 tonnes of lorry but the driver had overloaded his lorry by a further 4 tonnes. The junction where he hit Paul, he should of stopped but didn’t, even more so that the sun was low and his vision was obscured, and then throw in that his blood test showed that he was 3 times the limit for cocaine in his blood.
I didn’t realise just how this anger inside me was affecting my family and my home life, I couldn’t talk to anyone about it and if anyone mentioned the driver I exploded in rage, if anyone spoke Pauls name I’d break down in tears and after the tears the anger came out again. Try to explain to people how this destroys you is so hard, being so exhausted but not able to sleep, being constantly hungry but when food is in front of you not eating anything. There were a few brighter moments in all this and this came from the support and calls from friends & colleagues, the help was there but again they were concerned of finding the balance of making me aware they were there for me but also giving me the space to try and grieve, however at this time I could not or would not divulge to anyone just how bad things were becoming at home and within myself.
Then I got the news I was waiting for, CPS gave the nod to charge the driver, I’d never been so happy, nervous and scared all in one moment. The Officers in charge of our case explained how the charges were obtained, I was gutted not to be able to go to Magistrates, I knew this would be a 10 minute hearing but I so wanted to see the drivers face, however this was not to be due to an operation I had been waiting months for was booked for the day before the court date. We knew this was going to Crown so I could deal with this and wait for the next hearing. Thankfully this was only a few weeks later and we all were there and I finally caught sight of the driver. I don’t know what I was expecting but he looked like an average bloke, nothing exceptional but as he stood there in the dock he had an air of arrogance about him and I could feel the anger rising but I was able to think that very shortly with all the evidence against him I would hear a Guilty plea and I could start to move on from this. So when the charges were read out to him and he stood there and replied, “Not Guilty” to say I was gob-smacked is an understatement, the anger just spilled out of me and was told by the judge to keep composed. The anger had gone from me, it was now hatred pure pure hatred towards him, I remember my wife looking at me and she looked scared, she later told me she had never seen me like this. Once the dates were set for the trial we were all ushered from the courtroom and I caught sight of the driver walking from the court, this really didn’t help my feeling because he looked as though he was going to meet his mates for a beer and that he’d not just been accused of killing a man!!!!
This was June 2019 and the trial had been set for Dec 2019, 6 more months to go through, 6 more months of hell. I tried to focus on this and put it out of my mind to try and get on with day to day living but it would have been easier herding cats, I just spiralled down. Snapping at my family for things I’d normally deal with a cheeky laugh and comment. Again the calls and support from work was there but I still couldn’t explain how I actually felt, how do you actually explain all this to folk who have not experienced what I’d been through? This is how the hate had blinded me, to me I was the only one suffering here, Paul had no partner nor kids, our parents were dead, it was just me..so I thought, but my wife and boys were so scared and concerned for me but again they could not speak to me because I would not listen, as soon as they tried I’d just rant at them that they didn’t understand and that was how life rolled from day to day.
Sometimes you need something to give you a proverbial kick up the back-side and in Oct 2019 I got this, my youngest son had to go to see the GP, his mom took him and while with the GP he apparently blurted out to her how scared he was of his Dad and that his Dad was so angry all the time because of Pauls death. When they got home Kaz told me to listen to Cam and what he had to say, I was stood there as my son poured his heart out to me about everything and before long we were both in tears I hugged him and promised this would change. This literally felt like a whack around the head and I realised what I had become, we all sat there as a family for the rest of that evening trying to figure out the best way to sort this mess out. I created a little saying in my head that evening that I keep to this day, “The driver destroyed part of my family that day, I cannot and will not allow him to destroy and take any more from me”
The following day I booked to see my GP and was diagnosed with Depression and anxiety and given a course of tablets, I was terrified of this because I pictured myself becoming a zombie but the GP calmed me down and explained how the tablets would affect me. I couldn’t have been more wrong about being a zombie, within a week I actually felt like a human again, I was sleeping and eating and more importantly I was talking to my family again.
I also finally took the leap and sat down with my Sarge at work to explain everything to her and she listened and listened then went into action by arranging Occ Health appointments for me to get some counselling. I had got approximately 8 weeks until the trial started and although I had started to feel better because of the tablets I’d been given I knew I needed something else to get me through and this is where the support really ramped up because I knew I had to be able to face the driver and listen to all the details of my brother’s death, tablets alone would not do this. So after a lot of thought I realised that the only way I would make things right in my head would be by forgiving the driver for what he had done. If I continued with the hate then there was only one way to go for me and I so did not want that, so I looked into how I could forgive this man. Through my team I was given contact for specific counselling in actually learning how to forgive, it’s one thing to just say the words but another to actually mean it and live it. So through this counselling alongside what Occ Health were doing for me and throw in several chats a week with my Sarge I developed what I called my suit of armour, something that would protect me through the trial and the future.
It was around this point that I really became aware of Tough Enough To Care, this was a mix of seeing them pop up now and then on fb but also through work, this group had been mentioned by a colleague and we were trying to get them into the Police to provide their support. So I started to follow their page to see what they were about and what they could offer.
A few weeks before the trial we attended court for the pre-trial hearing mid-November and I felt completely different to how I did in June, I truly put this down to finding people to talk through with, I remember being sat outside the court room, with the Officers in the case and it was more like a Copper’s away day than a court hearing, we were laughing and joking, maybe it was to relax us all but whatever it was it worked. I then saw the driver again but this time he looked different, he looked scared, broken in fact but I then recognised the look. This was how I was back in June and that his arrogance that day must have been his suit of armour, his way of protecting himself against what he was facing. Even when I was told he was still going not guilty it did not bother me, I just wanted it all to start and crack on with it.
Then with a week to go until the trial I saw that TETC were holding their first group meeting up at Haden Hill Fire Station, I had already felt the benefit of speaking with people about my feeling, weird how it’s easier to speak with strangers than family at times, so I thought, why not lets pop along and see first-hand. Now walking through those doors that Monday evening was weirdly hard-work, I suppose it’s the unknown, the fact that blokes are not supposed to open up like this. I was greeted by Stu & Dan and had a quick chat with them both and slowly the door kept opening up and one after another bloke walked in and the one thing in common we had was the look of nervousness on our faces. However once the session kicked off, wow, again how uplifting is it unloading what is troubling you. I explained what I had gone through that past year, I felt a bit of a fraud when hearing how some folk had suffered all their lives but we all have our mountains to climb. TETC have a rule that what is said in the group stays in the groups so I will not give details of what was said that evening but there were a complete mix of “issues” but the fantastic thing being was that what was one person’s problem, someone else in the group had been there and could give sound advice or were in a position through their job to basically say “I can point you in the right direction” All I can say is that on that Monday evening, 20 or so blokes walked into that room as strangers but within a couple of hours lefts as friends and that is thanks and down to Stu, Dan and everyone concerned with TETC. I left that evening with the well wishes from everyone for the coming week and from Stu & Dan the offer of a phone call to them at any time should I need a chat, top blokes!!!
The trial itself was the longest three days I had ever known but as the pre-trial I knew I could get through this, the only difference during this was that for the first time I met and saw the drivers family because to the other hearings he was always alone but there next to me was his partner and parents, talk about awkward looks. We all sat through the evidence obtained by the Police and as they picked apart the drivers defence, we were also shown the CCTV of the RTC and images of the point of impact between the lorry and Paul, not good viewing but something I’d spoken about and felt like I needed to see. We got to the point where the jury were sent out for their verdict and this was the bit I thought I’d struggle with as I hate waiting about doing nothing, our Family Liaison Officer (FLO) reckoned on us being called in by the judge and stood down for the day as it was already late in the afternoon. Then after an hour we were all called back to Court and the FLO said “told you”, the court usher opened the door for us and as we entered he mouthed to us, “we have a verdict!” the butterflies I had in my stomach were huge, we sat down, the jury came in, the foreman stood and was asked if they had a verdict, “yes” is it a majority? “Yes” “We find the defendant guilty” I could have screamed but I kept it inside I just squeezed my wife’s hand and the tears and cries from the driver and his family told me this was not the time nor place to celebrate, it just did not feel right. The driver was bailed for pre-sentencing until after the New Year and after a group hug and shake of hands we left the court with the result I so wanted, Guilty.
I truly expected to have felt so much better at this time but it was weird, on the drive home from Court not one word was said between my wife and I and apart from informing family and friends of the result it was quite a calm quiet relaxed evening, I’d arranged the rest of the week off work with my Sarge as she was aware I would need the rest, I thought I’d be ready to come straight back but once again she could foresee what I may be like. The following week was Christmas but for all we tried we could not find any festive feelings and it was only our boys begging us to put up the Christmas tree that we did we really couldn’t be bothered. Through this coming week I crashed, I don’t know whether it was exhaustion or what but I felt all the work I had done since October just crumbled from around me and I was back at square one, no actually I was further back than that because on Boxing day 2019 I did something I had never done before and truly hope will never do again. I felt that tired, that beaten after everything I’d been through the past 13 months and that I just so missed my brother, I sat there staring at a bottle of whiskey I’d been bought for Christmas and a huge pile of tablets. It felt so easy to start popping the tablets one by one but that first tablet just stayed in my fingers and the tears flowed once more. I couldn’t do this to my family and that saying came into my head, “He’s destroyed a part of my family, he’s not destroying anymore” I put everything away and first thing the following day called my GP explaining everything, he increased my tablets and I arranged further counselling from Occ Health.
I used the TETC group meetings after this because I so needed that support they provide, a room full of councillors at your disposal is not to be sniffed and again I opened up about my thoughts on that Boxing day and how scared and confused I was, the proverbial arms were once again placed around my shoulders from all there.
My team at work and the guys at TETC have all been like counsellors to me through all this and I have found that nothing, absolutely nothing beats talking to people because the help is there, all this came to a fore at the sentencing. I had spent the previous weeks going through how I’d feel if the driver walked from Court and I bit of me wasn’t that bothered because I knew whatever the sentence Paul would still be dead and if I expected him to get 14 years and he didn’t then the anger and hate could start all over again. I’d got the guilty so whatever happened today so be it. The Judge gave his summing up which lasted a long time, then all of a sudden and what appeared out of the blue the Judge told the driver to stand and sentenced him to 3 and a half years and told the guard to “take him down” and he was gone. I turned and caught the gaze of the drivers dad, what do you say in this situation, I think I just made some sort of compassionate facial expression and probably looked a complete idiot but his family were all in bits. We went to the family room and again handshakes all round and I thanked everyone again. As we walked out of the court we again saw the drivers family, all still crying at what their son and partner had done and now faced, I could not walk past. I approached them and as daft as it sounded asked them if they were ok, they looked gobsmacked at my concern and openly said they expected me to be raging at them but I explained they were victims in this as I was and that the hell I’d gone through the past 13/14 months it was now their turn but if they supported each other including the driver then they would come through this, they had to find a strength to help the driver on his release from prison because it will dawn on him at some point as to what he’s done. We left each other with hugs and handshakes and I wished them all the best for the future and this time as my wife and I left court I didn’t feel empty I just felt at peace, with everything.
I truly believe this is due to the help, support and guidance from everyone I have been fortunate to have had by my side, I know everyone has different experiences of support through difficult times but I can only speak as I find and the TETC team have been a massive part of my recovery and will be for the future as the support offered not just through the group meetings but at any time of the day or night.
Am I ”fixed” no, far from it, will I ever be fixed, don’t know but I’m heading in the right direction again with the support around me I have the confidence to push forward, even to the point of offering help to others were I can. I am currently in the process of going through and setting up Restorative Justice conference with the driver, where I can sit face to face with the driver and his family and talk about what we have all gone through and how to move forward, hopefully this will go ahead and provide help and support for myself and the driver.
There was many a saying coined from the TETC group meets but the one that seemed to sum it all up for is, “The hardest step you will take, is the one that brings you through the door”
To everyone involved in TETC you are amazing and thank you for what you do for everyone.