Today marks four years and seven months since Josh was taken from me by Shane O’Brien. A man with 17 previous convictions and who was known to the police. A prolific offender or a hardened criminal is a term that I have used for him when sharing Josh’s story in schools and colleges, but I have many more that I use to describe him in private. Today I will share one of those with you, and that is evil. Evil because he has no morals and is downright wicked. Did he not learn the valuable lessons that I taught Josh throughout his short life, good from bad, right from wrong, empathy, respect, compassion and love? To be honest, knowing the answer would make no difference to me as it won’t bring Josh back home.
To educate young people and help prevent them from carrying a knife, I choose my words carefully as I share Josh’s life with them. I talk about the impact that Josh’s death has on me, Josh’s family and his friends every single day. I also tell them that even looking at them as they sit there looking back at me breaks my heart as I see Josh’s face when he was their age. I see him in his school uniform with his happy smiling face looking at me. And when I am talking to young people in colleges, I see him in his latest tracksuit and designer trainers awkwardly looking back at me, like some of the other boys do. They find it hard to image their mums standing where I stand talking about them if they had lost their life, when I ask them to.
Today is not a good day because I have experienced a flashback while walking my dog Stella first thing this morning. I had to stop in my tracks and say out loud how did you do that? I cried, and I am crying now as I write this blog because as time moves forward, the reaction to my memories continues to change. You would think that they become more faded, but you would be wrong because for me they are even more clearer as time goes by. How you might ask, well they become more precise because the trauma lifts a little bit every day and when this happens the darkness is broken by thin openings of light, and it is these openings that allow me to think clearer about past events and the impact that they have on me.
So how could I do what, you might be asking, well how could I have stood across the road from the RE Bar (now known as the GEO Bar) in Eastcote knowing that Josh was laying on the floor in his blood, dead and all alone? How could I have stood there looking at the bar door waiting for it to open while watching the police and the forensic teams while patiently waiting to see them bring Josh out? When that moment came when I was told that I could touch Josh over the blanket on the trolley that he came out on, I knew that Josh knew I had done the best that I could do under the circumstances. How did I do that? How? I did it because my baby was all alone and I wanted him to know that I was right there outside waiting for him: my baby, my happy, funny, kind and loving Son. I am so strong, and I am so brave because that was such a hard thing to do and today thinking about the enormity of it is having a significant impact on me. I feel sorry for myself, and I am not ashamed to admit it, therapy teaches me that it is ok for me to be kind to myself. I was not alone standing there. Brooke was with me as were my family, and some of Josh’s friends how brave of them too.
There was one point when a lady was walking past and said to me ‘what’s happening over there is someone dead’ and I said ‘yes my Son has been murdered’ she looked at me horrified and shocked and then hurriedly walked on as she was lost for words bless her. I also remember a coldness, and unforgiving atmosphere as the pub across the road that people had chosen to gather at and who wanted to support me had said that the manager was upset because us being there was bad for business! It is shocking when I look back at it; I even had to go inside to speak to the manager and explain what had happened, who I was and why we were there.
I also remember having to notify the police that the sanitation workers were coming down the street emptying the bins I remember panicking thinking that they might take away any evidence. And I also remember having to insist that I would not be leaving until I got to see Josh’s body come out of the bar when I was told that it would be best to leave. While it took 15 hours for that to happen, I could have stayed there forever if it had meant that none of it was true and that Josh would have walked out saying it was all a big mistake.
This past month has given me more time and space to think about my life, what I am doing and why I am doing it. It has also given me time to think about the many injustices that I have experienced over the years from not being able to touch my baby while he lay on a cold floor alone all that time to fighting to see the CCTV of his last moments before watching it in court with his murderer. More recently, I have been denied an appeal to challenge the Judge’s sentencing by the Attorney General because they said that it was not received during office hours in spite of it receiving it within 28 days as requested. I have also found out that I signed the Human Tissue Act form agreeing that Josh’s tissues would be disposed of when the forensic team had finished with them on the same day that I had seen him in the Mortuary. Such indifference and lack of thought and empathy make me shudder, to think that I signed a mandatory form on the same day as seeing Josh is incredulous. The Criminal Justice System is not fit for purpose, and the Victims Code of Practice makes a weak effort to support victims. We know very little about our rights as they are not enshrined in law, and even when we become a victim of crime, it is hit and miss whether we will be told about the few entitlements that we do have.
What am I doing and why, I am here to fight injustices because I do not want you or anyone that you love to go through what I do every single day, feeling re-traumatised over and over again. I am actively challenging protocols and systems in place that fail to support victims. Some days are harder than others that is for sure and as I have already said today is one of them. But I will keep digging deep and continue to pray that my suffering helps me to stay strong. I am needed by the many individuals who reach out to me in their darkest moments when their child has been stabbed or if they do not know what to do when they find themselves pushing against a broken system. I will continue to fight a system that does not have victims at its front right and centre, and I will help to empower others to do the same. I will continue to challenge the system and the many governments agencies that send us around and around in circles looking for answers to work harder to provide continuity, and I will do all that I can to see that victims are given the same amount of support as offenders, in Josh’s memory.
With crime on the rise and showing no signs of slowing down, we all have to sit back, take a breath and ask why that is and what can we do to help make positive changes. Just as everyone has come together to support one another during these unprecedented times, we need to do the same to make our society safe. You can do this by investing in charities and organisations that work hard on your behalf. I have been supporting two families who have been affected by knife crime these past weeks and to continue to do this, we need your help. You can volunteer, fundraise or donate and you can tell your friends and contacts on social media about our charity the Josh Hanson Trust. Your help will enable us to grow and develop our projects and programmes that help prevent crime and support those affected by it while working hard to change the system.
Days like today when my tears keep flowing are the days when I know that God is carrying me as are you, and I want to say thank you for everything that you do to help keep me going. Together we can make changes, and we have seen what can be achieved by what we have done to help and support the NHS a service that we would be lost without in such times of uncertainty.
Stay safe, lots of love always, Tracey, Brooke and Josh ??? #hope #change #justice #victimsrights #victimfocused #changingthestoryaboutknifecrime #covid19