Photo by Brian Moody
In August 2008 Liz Brereton’s 21-year-old daughter, Ruth, was killed in a car crash travelling back from Portsmouth to her home in Croydon. Two years later the driver of the car received a two year prison sentence for causing death by dangerous driving and was banned from driving for two years. He was released after one year.
Every year Ruth would organise an annual summer barbecue for her friends. In 2008, having recently graduated from Portsmouth University, she was due to come home by train for the party but then changed her mind at the last minute and decided to drive back with her friend Spencer instead.
By the evening some of Ruth’s friends had arrived at the house and all of us were waiting for Ruth. We tried calling her but there was no answer. Finally one of Ruth’s friends made a phone call to another friend who we knew was also a passenger in the car. That’s when we heard there had been an accident and Ruth was in a bad way.
My husband was already asleep, so I decided not to wake him and instead rushed to the hospital with Ruth’s friends. When we arrived the receptionist and nurses said they did not have Ruth’s name on their list. Two of the other passengers were waiting there too, but no one seemed to know where Ruth was. Then a doctor told me that the Police wanted to see me in the relatives’ room. I knew then that something serious must have happened, but I was still expecting to find Ruth alive. A little later two Police liaison officers sensitively broke the news to me that Ruth had died at the scene of the accident.
I think shock took over then because I wasn’t hysterical, just completely numb. I knew I had to ring home and tell the family. Even when they arrived at the hospital and we were taken to see Ruth in the chapel of rest, somehow I still kept it together. It was like that for quite a long time until six months later I suffered from my first depression.
For the weeks afterwards the house was full of people which really helped. Also my church community were a fantastic support. I never at any point felt anger. Before the funeral I received a letter from Spencer and his mother. In his letter he said that if he could change places with Ruth he would and I knew he meant it. I asked the Police Liaison Officer if she would invite him to the funeral and he rang to thank me and said he would be there. I think that was a very brave thing for him to do. I was worried how Ruth’s friends would react but most of them didn’t clock who he was. After the funeral I looked for him as I wanted him to know we didn’t hate him. It was obvious how upset he was and that it was affecting him badly. I knew he had his own grief to deal with and that this would affect him for the rest of his life.
Once the court case was looming we were asked to provide an impact statement about how we had been affected to help the defence but we declined as we thought Spencer had enough to deal with and it would not help us or change anything and we did not want to make things worse for him. But before sentencing we did want to provide an impact statement in order to try and help him so that he would not have to go to prison. I said there were people in prison who had done dreadful things because that was what they wanted to, but Spencer had at no time wanted to harm Ruth.
During the whole court case you could see Spencer was devastated by what he’d done. He told the court he had loved Ruth and that a day didn’t go by when he didn’t think of her. How could I want vengeance on someone saying things like that? In my view what he needed was psychotherapy, not prison. I contacted him during that time to see if he was OK – I wanted to support him. I also sent him some photos of Ruth in case he was sent to prison. I wanted him to have a keep-sake and memories to help get him through.
In the end he received a two year sentence which upset me. It served no one.
When he came out of prison he sent me a message thanking me for my support and every year since, on the anniversary of Ruth’s death, he goes to the churchyard and puts flowers on her grave. I normally contact him around then to thank him for the flowers but otherwise I think it’s best to let him get on with his life.
The whole family feel like me. Although Spencer did something wrong, we are not angry. Anger can get you stuck in the grief process. I’ve met others in my position who are unable to move on and you can see the bitterness they hold, either about the person who has done this, or about the system which has failed them.
Also after Ruth died all these messages were posted on her Facebook page saying how kind and caring she was. She never said anything bad about anyone, so she set us the example. Because Ruth was so forgiving, I know she would have felt the same as we do and would not have wanted any vengeance on Spencer. We were motivated by her compassion.