When you put your head above the parapet, expect to be shot at. It’s been a lesson in learning for me over the past few weeks; I’m learning to have a thick skin. At no point have I said that I’ve got the solution to many of the problems facing us – all I have said is that I’m with Einstein when he said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Yet I’ve been accused of having simplistic solutions, of being part of the middle classes that created the problem because it’s ALL down to poverty, and of having a closed mind to anything that might work – even though that’s exactly the opposite of what I’ve said. We desperately need solutions that work because whatever we are doing now is not working – all the education, all the support, all the learning interventions, the drama and art workshops are having too little impact.
When it comes to solutions, there are so many more questions than answers, so many different bodies and organisations involved in various aspects of both “sides” of the argument and none. There are criminal justice experts, social workers and prison and probation services and police and judges and politicians, teachers, NHS staff, emergency workers, educators and prison reformers.
On the “other” side are the organisations formed by people who want to stop another family going through what they did; they don’t necessarily have a different agenda. Some people assume that they are driven by anger and the need to enforce justice and revenge – but most are simply trying to make sense of their preventable loss. They wonder how a civilised society can let this happen – or if they can trust the organisations tasked with the responsibility of legislating and implementing policies to protect them and change things to do so. They have questions with no answers, and I can understand how the impotence they feel after such a senseless murder propels them to set up such organisations. They have had the hearts ripped out of their families, and must try and fill that void with something, tirelessly and continuously working entirely at their own (considerable) expense.
There are those who cannot find any channel for their grief; instead, they are paralysed by their grief. That’s the after effect of crime that you don’t see because these victims are behind closed doors. They are the grown up siblings with families of their own who never sleep soundly again, the colleagues who cannot talk about their former workmate, or the friends who try to move on with their lives but have that irreplaceable gap and a terrible guilt – and sometimes memories they cannot get out of their head. They are the parents who are shut in the house because of panic attacks, and who churn it all over and over and over again in their head. They wonder how they could have done things differently, or if they could have stopped it all happening. These are the parents who take medication strong enough to knock a horse out – except it doesn’t work for them, and temporarily, they still lose their mind in grief years after the event, and have no idea what triggers it. They are the living victims, who are frustrated by the lack of transparency in the sentencing system, angered at early release programmes, and they believe the judges and politicians sit in ivory towers with ample police protection – and have no comprehension of what it might mean to have your child murdered. And most of all, some of them are angry at the fact their voices were not heard in the justice system. As Josephine Stewart says, “we were the only people who could fight for justice for [Michelle] – and no-one was interested in what we had to say.”