Kathleen Key (England)

“I needed to know why he had been drinking; what had brought him to that point in his life where he had no thought for anyone else?”

Photography by Brian Moody

Kathleen Key had been with her husband and father of her four children for 28 years when he was killed in a road accident. The man responsible for his death was immediately arrested and later found guilty of dangerous driving. Kathleen asked for a restorative justice meeting with the offender, and a year and nine months after the accident they met in Standford Hill Prison in Kent.

On Sunday 6th October, 2006, Darryl had gone to work as normal. He was on his way home when a man in a car did a u-turn on a dual carriageway across moving traffic. My husband was on a bike. It was a head-on collision – instantaneous death.

There was a knock on the door about half-past-two in the afternoon. A police officer said, ‘Are you Mrs Key?’ Then he came in and asked if I had anyone to look after the little one. I said, ‘No’. I said my husband was at work and so were my other kids. That’s when he told me that Darryl had died.

The rest was a blur. I didn’t know what I was doing. I thought, ‘My god, I have to tell my kids’. The police officer said that he would do it but I said, ‘No, this is my responsibility’.

My first priority was my eldest son, Nicholas. He worked in London and I knew he’d be leaving at 4pm, as he was doing a nightshift. I phoned him and told him his dad had been killed. My other two sons I couldn’t get hold of; their mobiles were switched off. So I had to go through their employers, asking them to ring me. I had to tell them then and there. Then I had to tell my mum and dad and ask them to come and look after my little girl.

Another policeman arrived; he was the family liaison officer and he brought me some of Darryl’s stuff, like his rucksack, as early identification. He told me that we had to wait before I could go and identify Darryl. That was the longest wait in history. We had to sit around until we were told we could go to him. We all went down to the hospital together.

The kids weren’t allowed in. I went in with my sister-in-law to identify Darryl. I suppose someone else could have done it, but it was my job. You do what you have to do. I walked back out, and told the children, ‘This is not a mistake, this is definitely Dad’. Then I came home. I don’t remember much else about that day. I got in the bath and put my head under the water to drown everything out.

It was nearly a year before the case against the man who killed Darryl went to court. In that time I started having bereavement counselling from victim support. My counsellor asked if there was anything that would help and I told her, ‘I need to see the guy who did this.’ She didn’t know if it was possible, but she contacted the Police Family Liaison Officer. He sent the mediation service to see me. This happened pre-sentencing, after just a couple of months.

A lot of people were upset that I wanted to see the offender. My mum and dad wouldn’t discuss it with me. My youngest son used to get quite cross about it, so I stopped discussing it with my children too. Some friends couldn’t understand. They just wanted to kill him. That never crossed my mind. It was about something here, in my heart, saying I needed to do this. It was about closure; moving on. I think I needed to know why he had been drinking; what had brought him to that point in his life where he had no thought for anyone else?

I met him in Standford Hill open prison. We were picked up from home. The guy from the mediation service and a friend I’d chosen for support kept asking, ‘Are you okay, Kathy?’ I said, ‘I’m fine.’ They said, ‘Are you sure?’ I was just so calm. I don’t know why but I had no qualms. I was probably the calmest I’d been since the day Darryl died.

There were two people from mediation service, myself, a prison officer and the offender all in the same room together. My first words to him were: ‘If you think I’m here to forgive you, you’ll rot in hell first. I can’t forgive you for what you’ve done to my children.’ Probably not a very good opening! Then I said, ‘Tell me what happened. Not what the courts have said, you tell me what happened. Why were you drinking?’

He said he’d been drinking because his wife had died and he couldn’t cope with her death, living in the house they shared, surrounded by her memories.

I said, ‘That’s very selfish. If you can’t deal with living in her house, then you should move, not sit there drinking. By doing that you caused devastation in my life.’ I asked him what he would do when he got out of prison.

He looked uncomfortable. He said he would never drive again. I said, ‘What does that solve? It’s always going to be your family running around for you. What you need to do is not drink again. Are you going to go back to work?’

He said he wasn’t. He was retired. He had an army pension.  I said, ‘What are you going to do? Sit and drink yourself to death?’ He said, ‘No’. I said, ‘Please don’t let my husband’s life be worth nothing. Don’t sit and dwell, move on. If you’re not going to work, then help with your grandchildren. Please don’t sit and drink your life away.’

He was actually quite tearful by this point. In fact, everyone was except for me. When we left I was able to give him a hug and say, ‘I don’t hold you any ill feeling. I just don’t want you to waste the rest of your life.’

I was studying at the time, and I went into college that day and I felt really elated. I actually slept that night too. It was the first time I’d slept since my husband had died. It was very empowering. I was able to find closure.

I have got a faith, but it’s been very rocked by Darryl’s death. I need to find my own path through it. Maybe this is the path.